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L.A. cracks down on unlicensed and counterfeit pharmaceuticals

L.A. cracks down on unlicensed and counterfeit pharmaceuticals
Illicit pharmaceuticals that law enforcement officers seized as a result of multi-agency investigations. (Melissa Etehad / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles city attorney filed three lawsuits Wednesday against several individuals accused of selling illegal, banned, misbranded or counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

The lawsuits follow an extensive investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Arizona, officials said.

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The investigations led to the recovery of more than 430,000 doses of illicit pharmaceuticals. City officials said they hope the crackdown encourages people to avoid buying medicine that is not prescribed by a licensed physician or pharmacist.

"My office and our law enforcement partners continue to fight to protect our residents from the health and safety hazards pose by illegal pharmaceuticals," Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said at a news conference.

Eight defendants are named in the lawsuits, which seek civil penalties and long-term injunctions restricting future business activities.

The lawsuits also could result in criminal prosecutions but Feuer didn't specify when that might happen.

"Through these lawsuits, we seek to shut down what we allege are the unlawful activities of these supplies and to send a clear message to others who prey on the community that they'll be next," Feuer said.

Illicit medicine recovered by investigators included Viagra as well as anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory medicine such as Xanax and Diprospan, officials said.

Counterfeit medicine can contain harmful ingredients or incorrect doses that could harm those who consume or inject it.

Those accused in the complaints include a North Hollywood couple who city officials allege used their home to store and sell large quantities of counterfeit drugs, including antibiotics, Cialis and Viagra.

Law enforcement officials who searched the home of Catalina Campos and husband Jose Vasquez in October recovered $124,000 in cash, according to the complaint.

In a separate lawsuit, officials allege that South L.A. couple Flavia Maria Rodriguez and Salvador Enrique Velasco Sanchez mailed counterfeit medicine from Central America and Mexico to store in their home, which they used to distribute the illicit pharmaceuticals to individuals in Los Angeles and cities as far away as Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco.

Wednesday's announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit Los Angeles officials filed last week that accuses top drug makers and distributors of deceptive marketing tactics that boosted sales and contributed to the nation's opioid epidemic.

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad

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