The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently nabbed a Miami man who sold $16.7 million of misbranded and “adulterated” HIV meds, potentially putting the lives of many at risk.
When a drug is “adulterated” is typically means when a substance has been substituted in whole or in part for the drug, rendering the medication potentially weak, useless, or dangerous. For people living with HIV, an antiretroviral that is not working at full capacity could lead to their HIV advancing, potentially to AIDS; it would also make their infection transmittable to others.
Armando Herrera pleaded guilty in September to a scheme that saw him setting up fraudulent companies in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Texas, and Washington State. From January 2019 to November 2021, Herrera’s companies sold adulterated meds — including Truvada and Biktarvy — to wholesale pharmaceutical suppliers, which “then sold the drugs to pharmacies, which dispensed the adulterated prescription drugs to unwitting patients,” the FBI stated in a September press release. Herrera pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to introduce adulterated and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce; he’ll be scheduled in late December and could serve five years in prison.
Herrera and his companies pushed at least 16,050 tablets of adulterated Truvada, which is especially concerning as it not only used by people living with HIV, but those looking to prevent transmission. The FBI found that Herrera also sold nearly 4,000 tablets of Biktarvy and over 7,300 tablets of other adulterated or misbranded medications.
The issue of illegitimate medications is a big one for pharmaceutical companies. Gilead Sciences, the company behind Biktarvy and Truvada, reported in 2022 that an enormous amount of counterfeit meds has been sold under their name and that it was in the process of suing illegal distributors. The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, actively pursues health care fraud, such as that committed by Herrera. “The Fraud Section leads the Criminal Division’s efforts to combat health care fraud through the Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program,” the FBI stated in a release. “Since March 2007, this program, comprised of 15 strike forces operating in 25 federal districts, has charged more than 5,000 defendants who collectively have billed federal health care programs and private insurers more than $24 billion.”