Police: Local men bought counterfeit Viagra on Craigslist

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

SEATTLE, Wash. - A Mukilteo man is being investigated for allegedly selling counterfeit Viagra, Cialis and Levitra pills on Craigslist.  Not only is that illegal, it can also be dangerous because buyers never know what's really inside the tablets.

The multiple Craigslist ads the suspect posted under the Health and Beauty category promised "Wild Thing!" and "Fun Times" for $3: prescription erectile dysfunction medication without a doctor's note for a fraction of the prescription price. 

The ads were first noticed by Viagra manufacturer Pfizer in April of 2014.  According to court documents filed in King County Superior Court, a Pfizer investigator posing as a customer purchased pills from the Craigslist seller five times between August of 2014 and March of 2015.  Those pills were then tested in a lab and were confirmed to be “counterfeit and sourced from China." 

A Seattle police detective working for Homeland Security then traced the alleged seller to Mukilteo.

Between May 4 and Aug. 3 of this year, undercover investigators communicated with the seller and arranged three undercover buys.  The suspect was also placed under surveillance. 

Last Friday, agents served a search warrant at the suspect’s apartment and seized nine boxes of miscellaneous pills, three computers, three cellphones and an unknown amount of cash.

The suspect has not been arrested.  When contacted for comment on Friday, the man referred KIRO 7 to his lawyer. 

According to investigative documents, the evidence against the suspect includes text messages between him and investigators in which the suspect apparently admits "I'm not a merchant and keep discrete."  He also told undercover investigators "I've been selling these for a long time."

Pfizer spokeswoman Neha Wadhwa told KIRO 7 on Friday that it is “because of the threat that counterfeit medicines pose to patient health and safety that Pfizer is actively campaigning to detect, disrupt and deter manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit medicines.”

In other investigations, Pfizer labs have “confirmed the presence of pesticides (boric acid), rat poison, brick dust, leaded highway paint, commercial grade paint, floor polish, cartridge ink, plaster and wallboard in counterfeit medicines.” 

Investigative documents don’t detail what was found in the counterfeit pills allegedly sold by the Mukilteo man.  However, Swedish Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer warned against buying prescription medications from anyone who’s not a doctor or pharmacist. 

“If you’re going to put it in your body, you want to make sure that it’s pure, that it is what they say it is, and that it’s not going to cause you problems, particularly if it’s poison” Dr. John Vassall said.   

According to Vassall, if you buy counterfeit medications from someone selling them out of the trunk of his car, as the Mukilteo man allegedly did, “You’re not getting the real deal.  You’re getting something either worthless or harmful.”

The Seattle Police Department did not comment on the work its detective is doing on behalf of the Seattle Office of Homeland Security Investigations because it’s an “ongoing and active investigation.”

Here is a statement and information Amy received from Pfizer spokeswoman Naha Wadhwa:

 “It is precisely because of the threat that counterfeit medicines pose to patient health and safety that Pfizer is actively campaigning to detect, disrupt and deter manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit medicines. Since 2004, we have prevented more than 200 million counterfeit doses from reaching patients worldwide. We conduct and manage pro-active investigations and refer the cases we develop to enforcement authorities for their action. In addition, to assist law enforcement prevent counterfeit Pfizer medicines from reaching patients, we have provided training to authorities in 149 countries. We also have the lab facilities to test suspect medicines and determine whether they are counterfeit.”

Contaminants found in counterfeit medicines

Counterfeit medicines can have contaminants such as pesticides (boric acid), rat poison, brick dust, leaded highway paint, commercial grade paint, floor polish, cartridge ink, plaster and wallboard in counterfeit medicines. There have also been reports of heavy metals, arsenic and even anti-freeze. The danger posed by counterfeits is not limited to toxic ingredients, but extends to those that contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient or the incorrect dosage of an active ingredient, thereby depriving patients of the therapeutic benefit of the medicine that their doctors have prescribed.

Buying medicines

Medicines can safely be purchased from online pharmacies that are licensed and registered, but the vast majority of online pharmacies are disingenuous websites, concealing their true location and the source of their medicines. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that patients who order medicines from such online pharmacies have a 50% chance of receiving a counterfeit medicine.  In the US, patients can safely fill prescriptions from an online pharmacy certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Patients should refer to the list posted to the NABP website.  

People can also report suspected counterfeiting to the FDA MedWatch Program (or 800-FDA-1088) and to the manufacturer. If people suspect the Pfizer product they have purchased may be counterfeit, they can reach us at 1-800-438-1985.