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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Federal investigators seized more than 10,000 doses of counterfeit and illegally imported prescription drugs during inspections last week at Hispanic-themed businesses in El Paso.

The illicit pharmaceuticals range from cough medicine to drugs used to treat cancer, according to Homeland Security Investigations special agents who visited five businesses on March 17 accompanied by pharmaceutical industry representatives.

The medication seized includes Desenfriolilto-Plus (a popular children’s cold symptoms reliever), the antihistamine Bonadoxina, a vitamin supplement called Beyodecta, and Acxion — a controlled substance used as an appetite suppressant that can cause dependence.

Federal officials worry that border residents’ familiarity with Mexican prescription drugs – Juarez, Mexico across the border from El Paso is a regional medical tourism destination – may lure them to buy harmful products.

“Aside from the risks involved with auto-medicating that may cause drug resistance, buying medications that require a prescription from unauthorized sellers and consuming them poses a great danger; they may contain toxic, possibly fatal, doses of dangerous ingredients,” said Francisco B. Burrola, special agent in charge of HSI in El Paso.

He said the packaging of counterfeit medications is meant to resemble the real thing. Officials recommend purchasing prescription medicines only from legitimate pharmacies.

The agents seized 10,617 doses of medication from the following businesses for violating interstate commerce laws regarding “adulterated or misbranded” drugs:

  • Ortiz Produce and Groceries, 1331 Medea Drive, Clint
  • Bronco Swap Meet, 8410 Alameda Ave., El Paso
  • Mi Mercadito, 11401 North Loop Drive, Socorro
  • Mi Tienda, 10076 North Loop Drive, El Paso

The businesses also were slapped with seize and desist orders regarding the sale of unauthorized pharmaceuticals.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection worked with HSI on the investigation that led to the seizures.

‘A right way and a wrong way’ of getting meds from across the border

El Paso residents without health insurance or looking to save money on prescription medicines for a long time have been going to Mexico to purchase them, said El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to do this.

“We see it every day in our practice because we are a binational community. That is why we tell our patients, its okay to take medication from across the border but to seek medical attention first and let us know that the name of medication is,” Ocaranza said. “We don’t recommend at all to just go and buy the medications from places that are not even pharmacies. That is a dangerous practice.”

A physician should examine you and prescribe not only the right medication for your condition, but also the right dosage and be aware of whether it could cause a reaction based on your medical history, he said.

“It is dangerous to buy meds without first consulting your health provider. Why? Because we don’t know if the dosage that you are using is the correct dose. We don’t know if the medication is the correct medication. And, as we know, all meds have side effects, even the ones who seem very simple, very innocuous can potentially trigger some serious side effects,” Ocaranza said.

Officials also recommend having a doctor’s prescription whenever returning to the United States with medications purchased in Mexico, and to check whether the medications are controlled substances that should not be imported without authorization.