Florida Grand Jury Indicts 19 People on Charges of Selling Fraudulant Drugs Often Used by AIDS, Cancer Patients
A Florida grand jury yesterday indicted 19 people for allegedly selling counterfeit or diluted drugs often prescribed for people with cancer or HIV/AIDS, the AP/Tallahassee Democrat reports (Thomas, AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 7/22). Each person was charged with racketeering, conspiracy, organized fraud, grand theft and illegal drug sales. The charges carry potential prison sentences of five to 30 years each. According to the indictment, the group stole prescription drugs or purchased them "for pennies on the dollar" from patients, doctors and pharmacists. Lipitor, Celebrex, Procrit, Epogen, Neupogen and Gammagard were among the prescription drugs diluted or relabeled, according to the indictment. The drugs were often expired, relabeled to appear as if they were higher doses or improperly stored.
More Indictments May Follow
The group allegedly sold the drugs to wholesalers through "shell companies" located in Florida and at least six other states, according to investigators. Some of the wholesalers that purchased the drugs from the group allegedly knew of the origin of the drugs while others were unaware. Eventually, some wholesalers sold the counterfeit or diluted drugs to large national drugstore chains, the Orlando Sentinel reports. State officials said that as many as 100 other people in the wholesale pharmaceutical industry may be charged in the future (Kestin/LaMendola, Orlando Sentinel, 7/22). Dr. Margaret Fischl, director of the AIDS Clinical Research Unit at the University of Miami School of Medicine, said she and her colleagues plan to discuss the situation with patients in the coming days, adding that the diluted medications could drastically affect patients' health and possibly force unnecessary procedures or changes in their treatment regimens, according to the AP/Florida Times-Union. "To me ... you're playing with people's well-beings and their lives," Fischl said (Thomas, AP/Florida Times-Union, 7/23).
NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday reported on the indictment. The segment includes comments from Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist and Michael Mann, chief investigator for the Miami office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (Davis, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/22). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.