Inside Look at Customs Inspections Finds Viagra Knock-Offs

The shipments usually come from companies that don't have manufacturing facilities

By Patrick Healy
|  Thursday, Sep 19, 2013  |  Updated 1:28 AM PDT
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Thousands of items are shipped into LAX every day, from prescription drugs and cigarettes to high-priced clothes, but much of it is either counterfeit or illegal. So, what's being intercepted and how do customs agents do it? Patrick Healy reports from LAX for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2013.

Patrick Healy

Thousands of items are shipped into LAX every day, from prescription drugs and cigarettes to high-priced clothes, but much of it is either counterfeit or illegal. So, what's being intercepted and how do customs agents do it? Patrick Healy reports from LAX for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2013.

Knock-off medications, often purporting to be the in-demand erectile dysfunction meds Viagra and Cialis, represent a growing portion of the "counterfeit" merchandise intercepted in shipments from overseas, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The shipments often originate in countries where the pharmaceutical companies do not have manufacturing facilities.

"Large shipments coming in from a country that's not where they're made, nine out of 10 times, it's counterfeit," said a CPB inspector at the facility that screens shipments arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.

Viagra was developed by Pfizer, which has warned consumers they take a risk when ordering from online pharmacies that have not been authenticated.

The counterfeit drugs are often tainted with contaminants, and may not contain the indicated amount of active ingredient, according to Pfizer statements.

Boxes that CBP identified as containing counterfeit Viagra resembled Pfizer's packaging. CBP officers have also seized significant quantities of Human Growth Hormone products that have not been FDA approved.

Designer fashion accessories also remain an alluring target for knock-offs, said Christian Crawford, a supervisor at the CPB facility in the South Bay.

It processes as many as 150,000 parcels every day. Each parcel undergoes x-ray screening, and those that raise suspicions are opened for examination.

As many as 5 to 10 percent of the shipments are determined not to be in compliance with U.S. law, according to Jaime Ruiz, a CBP spokesperson.

A separate inspection program handles large-scale commercial shipments from overseas manufacturers that send product to warehouses prior to end-user delivery.

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