Crime & Justice

Los Angeles cracks down on illegal pharmacies

Photo by ad-vantage via Flickr Creative Commons

The city of Los Angeles announced a crackdown on illegal pharmacies Monday. Undercover investigators found one unlicensed pharmacy in Pacoima allegedly selling counterfeit medicines.

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer is pressing charges against the storefront and said this is part of a broader effort to protect public health.

"Counterfeit, fake, mislabeled pharmaceuticals are very hazardous to the public," Feuer told KPCC. "There are many people in Los Angeles, especially from immigrant communities, who often turn to places that are not licensed pharmacies for medication."

Counterfeit medicine can have harmful ingredients, cause allergic reactions or contain incorrect dosage amounts. Feuer said that immigrants who are here illegally may not report problem medicines to authorities out of fear of getting involved in the legal system.

Feuer announced a civil law enforcement action filed against Narcisco and Johana Gamez, who operate Ducleria El Venado. The store sells candy, snacks, herbs, tea and piñatas — and, according to multiple undercover investigations by the L.A. County Sheriff Department and private investigators, mislabeled and counterfeit drugs. The defendants aren't licensed to sell pharmaceuticals, and the store is not a licensed pharmacy.

The City Attorney's Office alleges that the Gamezes sold a variety of counterfeit pharmaceuticals since 2014, including injectable anti-inflammatory Diprospan, misbranded pharmaceuticals prohibited from distribution in the United States and prescription narcotics, according to the statement.

The lawsuit seeks the termination of the store's lease, an injunction against the defendants selling pharmaceuticals and related activities, and up to a $2,500 penalty for each violation.

The suit is being coordinated by the Health Authority Law Enforcement Taskforce, or HALT, which includes the L.A. Sheriff's Department, LAPD and L.A. County Department of Health Services. The group targets illegal pharmaceuticals at swap meets and small stores.