May 2, 2022: Another lawsuit over counterfeit HIV drugs in the U.S.
J&J sues distributors for selling fake versions of their HIV drugs. A Michigan resident pleads guilty to illegally importing and reselling a narcolepsy drug. Indianapolis CBP reports an uptick in prescription drug seizures while their colleagues in Philadelphia stop illegal ED pills from coming into the country. 17 more stories involve pressed pills made of fentanyl or methamphetamine in 15 states.
Fake HIV drugs and medicine smuggling
Johnson & Johnson is suing a group of distributors for selling counterfeit versions of their HIV treatments. The company, which issued a warning about counterfeit Symtuza in December 2020, became aware of the ring through customer complaints and the return of hundreds of bottles of counterfeit drugs. The action mirrors Gilead Science’s lawsuit over fake HIV drugs, which was unsealed in January 2022.
Michigan resident Phillip Leonowens pleaded guilty to illegally importing and reselling Modafinil, a narcolepsy drug, through ExpressPCT.com, a fake online pharmacy whose staff are currently being prosecuted in Michigan. PSM covered that case by video in March; watch it here.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Indianapolis reported that the volume of drugs seized at the city's FedEx complex— including illegal prescription drugs—have doubled in the last year. According to the city’s chief CBP officer, the majority of the drugs are not coming from Mexico, but are on their way from Canada, France, Spain and Slovakia to destinations in Europe.
CBP officers in Philadelphia confiscated almost a thousand ED pills and 71 vials labeled as sildenafil citrate in the baggage of a U.S. man returning from the Dominican Republic.
Counterfeit pills across the country
In the Pacific West
Alaska's Department of Public Safety reported seizing 4700 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in two drug busts. Officials said the pills had an estimated street value of $300K.
Law enforcement in Saxman, Alaska found 179 counterfeit M30 fentanyl pills after searching two trespassers on a boat in the seaport.
Porterville, California resident Renato Aguilera received a seven-year-and-three-month sentence for his role in a drug trafficking ring that sold fentanyl pills and methamphetamine. There were nine other defendants in this case, including Roberto Cavazos, who received a more than 12-year-sentence in April 2022; Maria Delgado who pleaded guilty this week; and six more people, one of whom is a fugitive.
On May 4th, Colin Walker’s family is hosting an information session in Belmont, California to call attention to the risks of buying drugs online. 17-year-old Walker died of fentanyl poisoning in August 2021 after taking a pill he had acquired from a dealer on Snapchat.
Two Bay Area men were charged with distributing methamphetamine, after the Drug Enforcement Administration linked them to dark web sales of fake Adderall.
A Kona, Hawaii resident was arrested when police at Keahole International Airport found her carrying 2,700 fentanyl pills, 850 grams of other drugs, fake IDs and an unregistered gun.
A lengthy article examined the counterfeit pill trade in Oregon, where federal prosecutions involving fentanyl pills spiked from three in 2017 to 38 in 2021. The piece also recounted the deaths of three teenagers in 2022 and of two men who died in 2020 after allegedly acquiring counterfeit pills from the same source.
In the Midwest
Police in Clay County, Minnesota seized illicit drugs, including a thousand fentanyl pills, after a police chase on Interstate 94. The pills were on their way to Moorehead, which has seen several fentanyl busts in the last month.
Two Minnesotans are facing charges for allegedly selling the counterfeit Percocet made with fentanyl that killed 16-year-old Hunter Carlson’s in January 2021. In January, Aidan Pelto, the teenager who acquired and shared the pills with Carlson, was given a stayed sentence of 86 months and placed on probation until age 21.
Two residents of Lexington, Nebraska are facing drug charges after a postal inspector intercepted a package of methamphetamine they had ordered and Nebraska State Police found 1,000 fentanyl pills in their home.
In the South
A 30-year-old resident of Bald Knob, Arkansas was charged for allegedly distributing drugs that resulted in death. Authorities say the case is related to arrests in Searcy that are linked to fentanyl pill deaths.
Bereaved mother Jill Maiorana is raising the alarm about the death of her son Joey Bernard, who died in Florida in November 2021 after taking a fake Percocet made with a synthetic opioid called etonitazene.
Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody filed an emergency rule to add etonitazene and seven other synthetic opioids to the Schedule I of controlled substances in Florida on April 26.
Rankin County, Mississippi deputies found three pounds of fentanyl pills when they stopped a driver from Texas on April 25th.
A raid turned up fentanyl, fentanyl-based pills, and a pill press in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
In Virginia, the Prince William County Police Department is investigating the death of two teenagers who took counterfeit Percocet. One 15-year-old was found dead in Woodbridge on the 24th; the other died in Dale City on April 26th.
In the Mountain West
Arizona’s Department of Public Safety reported that detectives seized 53 pounds of fentanyl pills during the search of a car and a home in Phoenix on April 12th.
Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Nogales seized 9,000 fentanyl pills which they found by sawing through a bicycle frame.
A 20-year-old man was indicted for selling 16-year-old Louis Steyer of Las Vegas, Nevada the fentanyl pills that killed him on July 4, 2021. The man, who advertised “Perc 30” sales on Snapchat, was picked up after police arranged another sale using Steyer’s cell phone.
A woman in Great Falls, Montana was charged in the fentanyl poisoning death of her husband Brian Klepko on April 6, after the couple ingested counterfeit pills made with fentanyl together.
Tarriah Provost will serve eight years in a federal prison for supplying 16-year-old Louis Sandoval, of Porcupine, South Dakota the fentanyl pill that killed him in December 2020.