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The Los Angeles City Attorney has filed criminal charges against eight individuals for allegedly importing over 100,000 foreign pharmaceuticals and selling them on street corners, in parks, in front of grocery stores, travel agencies and beauty salons, primarily to Latino customers.

Gloria Garcia, 65; Teresa Cruz, 64, Martha Bueno, 62; Bryan Pineda, 28; Maria Vences-Tinoco, 50; Maria Rosa Portillo, 74; Martha Siguenza, 74; and Helen Portillo, 40, were each charged with selling prescription medications without a license. Each was allegedly selling the illegally imported drugs out of attractive candy-colored displays throughout Los Angeles. Each defendant faces up to one year in jail. Additionally, first time offenders can be fined $5,000 and second time offenders face a $10,000 maximum fine. None of the defendants are licensed or trained medical providers.

Investigations into the suspects for dispensing illegal and dangerous pharmaceuticals led to the seizure of over 100,000 pills, compounds, and injectable medications that could have caused serious harm or death to consumers. The drugs seized included injectable drugs – typically used to treat back pain or bone infections – which cannot be purchased over the counter, require a prescription, and should only be injected by a licensed medical provider.

Also seized were antibiotics – the unsupervised use of which can increase resistance and lower effectiveness – pain medication, injectable contraception, lidocaine, and other potentially dangerous compounds. These foreign-made pharmaceuticals have not been approved for consumption by the general public in the United States.

L.A. County formed the Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT) in 1999, after two Latino infants died from taking illegal medications. HALT is the group that made the August arrests. So far this year, it has arrested 34 people in 54 cases, 48 of them involving illegal pharmaceuticals sold to immigrants, said Erick Aguilar, one of the investigators.

Illegal pharmaceuticals are being sold to immigrants in “every rural swap meet you can find,” and the sellers are becoming more sophisticated, Aguilar said. “They’re better at hiding it,” and “they’re more careful who they sell to.”

Many were sheer counterfeits. Others, though legal south of the border, were not approved for sale in the United States. Some had expired. Still others would have been legal if sold by people licensed to do so – but none of the sellers held pharmacist licenses or any other medical credential.

Counterfeit medicines may contain the wrong ingredients, contain too little, too much or no active ingredient at all – or contain other, potentially life-threatening hidden ingredients,” said Jeremy Kahn, an FDA spokesman.

Between October 2017 and July 2018, FDA officials confiscated nearly 22,000 packages containing illegal pharmaceuticals from international mail facilities, Kahn said. He said authorities routinely impound various opioids as well as dietary supplements laced with erectile dysfunction drugs and other dubious products. They come from India, China and across Europe – “just about everywhere,” Kahn said.