Some $3.6 million in bogus prescription drugs, including Viagra, Cialis and Proscar, shipped from India were seized at a Columbia warehouse, officials said Friday.
The operation is one of the largest of its type in the Carolinas and Georgia, said Vincent Picard, regional spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s a big one,” Picard said.
S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond cautioned that a counterfeit pill may look like the real thing, but the chemicals and by-products it contains may be dangerous, if not deadly.
“Passing off so-called ‘pharmaceuticals’ as a cheap alternative to name-brand medicine is a prescription for disaster. I am very pleased that these fakes are off our streets,” he said.
Viagra and Cialis are prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction. Proscar is used to treat benign prostate enlargement.
The officials declined to discuss details of the counterfeit prescription drug shipments because they said the probe is continuing.
Before the raid, some of the fake prescription pills were distributed. They could have gone anywhere in the country, said Renee Daggerhart, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State.
“Some pills did make it out, but we don’t know the quantity yet because it is still under investigation,” she said.
Counterfeit medicine may be contaminated or contain the wrong or no active ingredient. It could have the right active ingredient but at the wrong dose, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Be wary if the price of a medicine sounds too good to be true. Deep discounts may be offered because the product is stolen, counterfeit, substandard or unapproved,” the FDA says at its website.
Special agents with ICE Homeland Security Investigations worked with the Secretary of State’s Office, Blazer Investigations and Pfizer Inc. to seize the fake goods.
The two-week operation ran from Feb. 19 through Wednesday.
“The illegal importation and sale of counterfeit goods is a significant problem that affects our economy, impacts American jobs and innovation, puts the public’s health and safety at risk, and at times, threatens our national security,” said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge for HSI Atlanta.
In late February, a Missouri man was arrested following his federal indictment in Houston for trafficking in counterfeit Viagra and Cialis from China, introducing and delivering misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, smuggling and conspiracy. The indictment alleges he shipped the drugs from Missouri to Texas in partnership with a co-conspirator in China, according to the ICE website.
Last fall, the United States was among 100 countries that took part in a week of action that resulted in the seizure of 686 websites that were selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals. The counterfeit drugs seized included anti-cancer medication, antibiotics and erectile dysfunction pills as well as weight loss and food supplements, ICE reported.
During the Columbia raid, investigators also confiscated more than $290,000 in counterfeit and pirated goods shipped from China infringing on trademarked brands, such as Coach, Prada, Ray-Ban, Golf Pride and Taylor Made.
“Counterfeit merchandise is a lose-lose situation, harming those retailers who play by the rules and cheating consumers out of the quality product they need or deserve,” Hammond said.
Bogus pills sometimes contain chalk, brick dust, paint and even pesticides. One notoriously repugnant batch of pills, originating in China and sold in South Korea, contained the remains of human fetuses, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported in February.
Counterfeit drugs generated an estimated $75 billion in revenue in 2010, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy,
Each year upwards of 100,000 people around the world may die from substandard and counterfeit medications, according to a recent estimate by Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa and Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute, Bloomberg reported.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.