Authorities Target Vendors Of Illegal Prescription Drugs

Authorities Target Vendors Of Illegal Prescription Drugs

“A bunch of police cars showed up and blocked all the exits. They went in as if they already knew where to go. They went right to the people who sell medicine from Mexico.”

That’s how one witness described the arrival of police at the San Fernando Swap Meet on Friday, Aug. 8, when at least two people were arrested at the open air market during a raid targeting vendors of illegal prescription drugs.

The authorities were followed by some television cameras that recorded the entire operation.

The witness, who did not want to identify himself, said he saw a woman being detained by the authorities.

Other vendors thought they were immigration agents, and said many shoppers were also afraid when they saw the officers come into the Swap Meet.

“We thought it was the ‘migra’,” said a vendor.

Another person who was at the open market said many vendors and shoppers left as soon as they saw the authorities.

“The swap meet cleared up in less than 30 minutes. Everyone was picking up and leaving. A lot of people left,” the person said.

The operation at the San Fernando Swap Meet seemed to be the latest of open air markets that authorities have been targeting the past few weeks. Similar operations were conducted at the Alameda Swap Meet, and at another location close to MacArthur Park.

The Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), composed of law enforcement and health agents, has been examining the medicines being sold at swap meets recently. This can include penicillin, steroids and even some types of Viagra — many of them brought from Mexico — which are illegal to sell without a prescription in the United States.

“These are pharmaceuticals coming from Mexico; some of it is counterfeit, and some is not illegal in Mexico, but you can’t get it here without a prescription and is considered dangerous,” said Eric Aguilar of HALT. “It’s antibiotics and injections. Things that people may use in Mexico, but that’s not safe to use here.”

Authorities say they are trying to prevent allergic reactions, infections or worse.

HALT was established in 1999 after the deaths of two children from taking medication bought by their parents without a prescription.

“This is a county-wide task force. They are in charge of all the different swap meets and sporadically check on the activities there,” said Lt. Tony Vairo of the San Fernando Police Department, which also helped in the operation.

“This time they went after those selling illegal prescription drugs. They do that every so often. The last time they did it at the San Fernando Swap Meet was about 8-10 years ago. They go in there and check on stuff,” Vairo said.

In this investigation, authorities checked five different spaces at the open market and arrested two people, one of them for possession of methamphetamine and cocaine.

“One of the persons in the spaces had drugs on [them]. It doesn’t appear that they were trying to sell it, it was more for personal use. But they shouldn’t have brought it there at all,” Vairo said.

“Everybody was very cooperative with law enforcement. We had two guys assigned there on Friday and we had no issues, but unfortunately some of these people were selling medicines they shouldn’t be selling.”

Things were back to normal on Saturday, Aug. 9, although some sellers at the Swap Meet said some vendors didn’t show up that day, fearing authorities might return.

Vairo emphasized there is not an upswing in crime at the San Fernando Swap Meet. He noted most of the problems they see are business disputes, where a shopper might buy something that ends up not working, and returns to exchange it or want his or her money back.

“We try to mediate as best we can,” he said.