Black Market for AIDS, Cancer Drugs Flourishing in New York
The black market for cancer and AIDS prescription drugs in New York is "booming," the New York Post reports. According to Stewart Magee, head of the FDA's New York investigative office, the most "popular" drugs on the black market, including the cancer drugs Lupron and Taxol, and the HIV medications Zerit, Epivir and Crixivan, are being sold to "legitimate pharmacies." "Underground operatives" in the market include pharmacists, drug company salesmen, street dealers, drug addicts and HIV-positive individuals, according to law officials. The Post reports that these drugs are frequently contaminated, expired, toxic or useless, but it is "virtually impossible to tell whether the drugs ... are legitimate and potent" for the consumer. Moreover, mishandled and contaminated drugs are particularly harmful to AIDS patients, whose immune systems are compromised. Gary Tunkavige, FDA criminal investigator, explained that AIDS and cancer drugs "are perishable items sensitive to heat, light [and] humidity. Some of these drugs, when they break down, can produce toxic byproducts, so you end up with drugs that are totally useless, or worse." Magee said he was unsure of how extensive the black market has become. "There's no way to tell exactly how much this is going on, but I would guess that it's far more prevalent than any of us realize," he said. And some of the perpetrators are the AIDS patients themselves, the Post reports. A Post investigation discovered HIV-positive "junkies" exchanging their AIDS drugs for narcotics or cash outside "a number" of city methadone clinics. The paper cited the specific case of Michael S., who has been selling his Medicaid-subsidized AIDS drugs to black market dealers in exchange for narcotics. The Post reports that such dealers "prey on weak, terminally ill junkies like Michael who are hungrier for a narcotics fix than for the drugs that keep them alive." Michael had not been taking his HIV medications regularly as required, so drugs such as AZT, Crixivan and Viramune were no longer effective against the virus. Michael, who now has full-blown AIDS and has just "months" to live, prefers to sell his drugs for cash. Other cases specifically cited by the Post involve a former Proctor & Gamble sales representative and the former chief pharmacist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Harry Morelli (Francescani, New York Post, 11/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.