"Importation" of Prescription Drugs

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

Attempting to identify the diversion of prescriptiondrugs in the United States is not always an easy task.Drug diversion is thought of as a product of "doctorshoppers," forged and altered prescriptions, theft fromhealth facilities, and various other scams perpetrated byaddicts and those trafficking inpharmaceuticals.

Importing prescription drugs,primarily from our northernneighbor, Canada, has becomea hot item in the news, and likelya political issue on a nationalscale. Senior citizens, in particular,are understandably trying tokeep their prescription drugcosts to a minimum as they tryto exist on fixed incomes.

Another significant method ofimportation that involves oursouthern neighbor, Mexico, islikely providing a significantsource of drug diversion in ourcountry. In January 2004, ourdrug task force arrested a man inpossession of over 33,000 alprazolamtablets that were not fordistribution in the United States.They are 1-mg strength, lookvery similar to the "purple footballs"that are abused in our country, and are worth about $3apiece on the street.

In June of this year, we were finally able to track thesource of these drugs to the Mexican border near NuevoLaredo. A purchase was set up with the assistance of Texasauthorities, and the undercover officer purchased 93,060 ofthe pills from a purported Mexican pharmacist, who turnedout to only be known as a pharmacist because of his abilityto distribute large amounts of prescription drugs illegally!

This man, along with his wife and their 5-year-old son,also brought along 184 lb of marijuana to add to the transaction,which took place about 30 miles south of Austin,Tex. The deal took place in a very modest converted mobilehome, the residence of a relative of the wife. All 3 individualswere arrested after the drugs were viewed by the undercoverofficer, and the $100,000+ deal was agreed upon.

These transactions between the Mexican couple and 2 individualsfrom our area in southwest Ohio have been going onfor over 3 years. One individual had to quit a regular job inorder to make the trip from Ohio to southern Texas 2 to 4times a month. Each time in the first 2 years, at least 100,000alprazolam were purchased during the visits, and 1 time,300,000 dosage units of the pillwere brought back to our area.

Needless to say, millions ofdosage units of illegal alprazolamwere distributed in southernOhio and northern Kentuckythat had nothing to do with localdrug diverters or health professionals.The pills were boughtfrom the Mexican couple forabout $.70 each, and immediatelydispersed to several dealers for$1 per pill. This means a $30,000quick profit on every 100,000pills brought back to Ohio. Themarijuana profit is likely 3 to 4times that of the alprazolam.

We are gratified when we caneliminate a source of this sizethat was bringing these pills intoour jurisdiction. This is only 1dealer in our area, however, andhow many more people werethe Mexican couple providingwith alprazolam? The manufacturer of the alprazolam hasbeen working with us and federal officials in attempting toplug up the ultimate foreign source of the drugs.

When you consider this form of drug diversion, and coupleit with the millions of illegal doses that are being distributedvia the Internet, it becomes clear that this problemis not just made up of local drug seekers. It is a national andinternational problem of very large proportions, and needsthe continued cooperation of law enforcement, regulators,and health professionals.

John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drugtask force and retired commander of the CincinnatiPolice Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteranof law enforcement. For information, he can bereached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web sitewww.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.