L.A. Authorities Crack Down On Prescription Drugs In Huge Bust

Los Angeles authorities have charged nine suspects with selling illegal pharmaceuticals, as the city cracks down on unlicensed, underground drug sales.

City attorney Mike Feuer said tens of thousands of pills have been confiscated and that more prosecutions are forthcoming, Courthouse News Service reports. Antibiotics, steroids, diet pills, diuretics, placebos and silicone for body enhancements—none of which can be sold in Los Angeles without prescription—were some of the drugs confiscated.

"These illegal operations target many of our most vulnerable people," Feuer said at a press conference alongside Health Authority Law Enforcement Taskforce pharmacist Brian Wong and Eric Aguilar with L.A. County Health Services. "They target senior citizens, kids and members of immigrant communities."

The officials also outlined a detailed plan to clear the city of illegal drug sales. Here is more from Courthouse News:

Deputy City Attorney Travis Austin filed criminal charges against five people involved in the unlicensed sale of dangerous drugs. Among those named, Maria Bonilla faces up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Ana Bahena faces up to two years in county jail and a $10,000 fine.

Feuer said that the distribution of the illicit medications is a "global" concern." Interpol reports that there's a meaningful increase in the manufacture and distribution of illegal pharmaceuticals.

"The fight against illegal pharmaceuticals is crucial if we're going to protect public health," Feuer said. Feuer said his office has no data on how many deaths or injuries have occurred from the illegal medications. But he said that enforcement should be preventative.

"One of my most important goals for this office is not to be reactive to such an incident, but to preempt the problem, rather than waiting until someone has died in order to finally react," Feuer said. "We can be better than that."

Eric Aguilar said that immigrants are easy targets because medications are sold less formally in parts of Latin America and Asia where many of the immigrants are from.

"It's convenience, it's economics," Aguilar said. "They think it's cheaper, they think they are saving money. Some of it is cultural, they are familiar with the product and that is how they purchase it back home."

The city's crackdown isn't a response to any particular incident, but Aguilar said some people have died in the past as a result of using illegal pharmaceuticals. Two children who died years ago after taking illegal pharmaceuticals prompted the creation in the 1990s of a multi-agency task force that continues to target illegal sellers, Aguilar added. Profits from sellers vary, depending on the drug, Feuer said, but they are significant.

Back in July, FedEx was indicted on 15 counts of conspiring in the delivery of illicit pharmaceuticals, including the sleep aid Ambien and the diet drug phendimetrazine, according to the Independent. The feds claim FedEx made $820 million between 2000 and 2010 by ignoring the "questionable trade." FedEx has denied the charges.

While Los Angeles officials are boasting over their huge bust and lamenting the elicit pharmaceuticals drug trade, the reality is that the immigrants they claim to be protecting have few healthcare options. It's easy to arrest street-level drug dealers while giving a pass to white colar executives who are abusing the same system the cops claim to be protecting. By this, I mean the practice of businesses skirting laws that protect undocumented workers.

Undocumented immigrants aren't eligible for any assistance under federal healthcare law and more than half don't have health insurance, according to the Huffington Post. Although the Affordable Care Act has been implemented, the Urban Institute estimates that 25 percent of those without healthcare are undocumented immigrants.

For those who ask why the U.S. should provide medical coverage for undocumented workers, it should be noted that employers have been known to manipulate immigration laws to intimidate undocumented employees for their own gains. The Hill reports that more than half of those employed in U.S. crop agriculture are illegal. In 2010, illegal immigrants paid 11.2 billion in local and state taxes alone. There is every reason to care about the health of illegal immigrants as they are vital to the health of the American economy.

Given the practice of some employers to hire illegal immigrants to work under the most inhumane conditions, it is hard to blame illegal immigrants for choosing to seek healthcare outside of a system that uses their labor but ignores their health.

The drug bust in L.A. may lead to a few promotions, but it does little to positively affect the victims.

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