UNLICENSED CLINICS: County Investigators Close Six, But Many Remain
Los Angeles County officials are going undercover "to crack down on storefront clinics and pharmacies selling potentially deadly medications to immigrants." The Los Angeles Times reports that in a report to the county Board of Supervisors yesterday, the new "interagency county task force aimed at policing such clinics" said it had recently shut down six of these clinics, but "are virtually powerless to stop all of them." Fred Leaf, head of the county Health Services Department's audit division, said that "hundreds of the storefront operations are selling illegal and potentially deadly drugs to unsuspecting immigrants" who are uninsured and cannot afford to visit a doctor. But the county task force is "helpless" because it does not have the authority to prosecute these illegal clinics. The Times reports that "pharmacies -- legitimate or otherwise -- are regulated by the state Health Services Department," which "has done virtually nothing to stop the practices." Susan Bond, chief supervising food and drug investigator for the state health department, said, "The problem is there are many, many (more) stores now than there were before."
One At A Time
The task force reported that it was only able to close down the six illegal pharmacies because they were selling food items without county permits. The sites sold prescription drugs like penicillin, antibiotics, steroids and injectable drugs. Many of the medications "had been adulterated, mislabeled, were past their expiration date, had been manufactured improperly or were sold for inappropriate uses." Further, other medications the clinics sold were not even FDA approved for sale in the U.S., and others that cause serious side effects -- including birth defects -- were sold without inquiring if the customer was pregnant or had any complicating medical conditions. "You can go to Tijuana, load up your trunk, come back and be in the pharmaceutical business," Bond said. To make matters worse, the people selling the illegal medications have become more "brazen, diagnosing customers' medical conditions and 'prescribing' oral contraceptives and even experimental AIDS drugs," Bond said. County supervisors "voted unanimously to seek changes in state law" that would give county health officials jurisdiction over such storefront operations and that would make "selling such illegal drugs a felony," the Times reports (Meyer, 6/17). Click here to read further California Healthline coverage of unlicensed storefront clinics.