Florida man sentenced for involvement in illicit sale of adulterated HIV medications

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published January 15, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A Florida man was sentenced for planting adulterated HIV medications in the healthcare market. They were ultimately dispensed to patients across the United States.

  • Taking adulterated medications can impact a person’s treatment plan or worsen their condition.

  • Doctors may want to treat situations like this as public health issues and work with other healthcare groups to prevent future torrance.

A Florida man was sentenced to four years and three months in prison last month for participating in a scheme to sell adulterated HIV medications to pharmacies. The scheme impacted patients nationwide, who unknowingly received adulterated prescriptions. At least $16.7 million worth of the adulterated drugs were dispersed across the United States.[]

The man, Armando Herrera, pleaded guilty to “one count of conspiracy to introduce adulterated and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce” on September 25, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Herrera and others also created “false documentation to make it appear as though the drugs were acquired legitimately when, in fact, they were not,” the department said. Pharmaceutical supplies sold the drugs to pharmacies, which dispensed them to patients.

Federal agents seized more than $1.5 million worth of adulterated prescription medications from Herrera, including more than 16,000 adulterated HIV tablets, according to the DOJ.

The scheme highlights holes in the integrity of the US drug supply and reinforces the importance of monitoring prescription medications. 

“Doctors play a crucial role in addressing this issue,” says Bart Kachniarz, MD, a plastic surgeon in Greenwood Village, CO. “Educating patients about the risks of counterfeit medications, guiding them on how to identify fake packaging, and stressing the importance of obtaining drugs from reputable sources are key steps. Remaining vigilant to identify potential cases of patients using fake medications and promptly reporting such incidents is vital.”

Dr. Kachniarz emphasizes that this is a public health issue that doctors of all specialties can play a role in addressing. He offers some steps that providers can take in the future to combat issues with adulterated medications, including:

  • Collaborating with healthcare organizations.

  • Collaborating with law enforcement.

  • Advocating for affordable and accessible treatment options, such as patient assistance programs.

  • Supporting pharmacies and drug manufacturers in efforts to strengthen the drug supply chain, including using technologies to regulate, monitor, and authenticate medications.

  • Raising public awareness.

The last point, raising public awareness, “is a collective effort,” Dr. Kachniarz says.

“This situation emphasizes the need for collaboration to safeguard public health,” he adds. “Healthcare professionals, authorities, and the public must work together to combat the threat of fake medications and ensure that individuals living with HIV have access to the safe and effective treatment they rightfully deserve.”

When HIV drugs are altered, patients are also put at risk. People with HIV already have impaired immune systems, making them more vulnerable to other illnesses, including COVID-19. Taking incorrect or adulterated medications can negatively impact their disease management or worsen their situation.

“Facing adulterated HIV medications is not just a concern for patients, but [also] a serious threat to life,” Dr. Kachniarz says. “These fake drugs can be ineffective or even harmful, jeopardizing the control of the virus and putting patients at risk of disease progression, infections, and, in worst cases, death. Beyond the immediate health impact, it erodes trust in the healthcare system and global pharmaceutical supply chains, making patients hesitant to seek or stick to their treatment.”

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