Esmerelda Mendez was grieving after her sister, who suffered from chronic pain, bought unlicensed pharmaceutical medication as an affordable alternative and died within hours of taking the drugs.
The story was familiar to LA County Health professionals who were warning the public Tuesday that the cheap alternative of buying illegal prescription medicine was a dangerous gamble.
"You've heard of road paint? There's also rat poison in this too," Jim Pietsch of the LA Regional CrimeStoppers said as he discussed the counterfeit medication — medication available with no oversight, or anyone looking into the ingredients.
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According to CrimeStoppers, the medication is often purchased online with a prescription.
Public service announcements have been going out on TV and social media, warning that "counterfeit pharmaceutical medication kills" and the "fake drugs are often made with toxic chemicals and are stored in filthy conditions."
Health officials behind the announcements hope to stop others from enduring what Mendez has with the death of her sister.
Mendez said her 40-year-old sister didn't have insurance when she started to have a pain in her leg three years ago. She said a man her sister thought was a licensed professional injected her with two medications.
She was dead within hours, and Mendez said there was nothing anyone could do for her.
Now LA County Sheriff's Deputies are saying the trend of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is growing in Los Angeles County.
Nonprofit Partnership for Safe Medicines said the counterfeit pills look like their real counterparts in packaging and appearance, but are still not safe.
The problem is too often it's the cheaper alternative but LA County Health professionals said that's not entirely true, and they offer assistance to anyone who reaches out to a county public health office.
"Money is driving this whole thing," LA County Sheriff Lim McDonnell said. "If somebody is looking for a product and someone else can imitate what they're doing, they're going to try to do it."
The counterfeit pill business is a billion dollar industry, with many fake medications coming from China, Canada and South America, according to nonprofit Partnership for Safe Medicines.
"The purity and potency of these drugs vary and often are not what is represented on the labels. They are smuggled into our country and are not certified by the FDA. The buyers never truly know what they are paying for," Sgt. Steve Opferman said in a statement after $3 million worth of confiscated pharmaceuticals were destroyed in 2015 raids.
For more information, call CrimeStoppers at 1(800) 222-8477 or visit Pharmaceutical Security Institute's website.