UNLICENSED CLINICS: Investigations Point To Illegal Drugstores
Investigations stemming from the death of 13-month-old Christopher Martinez after he received treatment at an unlicensed Santa Ana medical clinic that catered to Latinos "has unexpectedly led police to Orange County shops selling illegal prescription drugs" from discount Tijuana, Mexico, stores. The Los Angeles Times reports that while the investigation of the boy's death led to the arrest of Eulalia Parra Moreno, the wife of Gamaliel Moreno, the unlicensed doctor who is allegedly responsible, there has been no sign of Moreno himself. However, Santa Ana police, who were already investigating an illegal medicine shop in Orange County, have uncovered another such operation thanks to phone tips following the baby's death. Together, the two shops "sold a virtual pharmacopeia of prescription drugs manufactured in Mexico and not approved for use in the United States," including AIDS drugs, steroids, hormones and antibiotics. Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters said, "Essentially, what we have uncovered is a new kind of black market." Los Angeles County has closed a number of similar shops, only to see them crop up again. Investigators speculate that the medicines originate in Tijuana, where over 700 drug stores operate just across the border. Not only are such stores not hampered by drug regulations, but they often sell medications for 50% of what they cost in America.
The Times reports that health officials in Orange County are putting "together an educational program to alert residents to the possible dangers of taking illegally imported treatments." The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has assembled a task force to halt such sales of drugs. Mary Bond, a state Department of Health Services food and drug investigator, noted that the illegal medications are becoming a problem throughout the state. She said, "It's not just in Latino communities anymore. They are popping up all over" (Hamashige, 5/28).