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Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

Distributors of counterfeit Lipitor target of racketeering lawsuit

July 31, 2003

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— A racketeering lawsuit has been filed against two pharmaceutical distributors over counterfeit pills in bottles labeled as the cholesterol-lowering medicine Lipitor.

The class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City claims Albers Medical Distributors Inc. of Kansas City and Med-Pro Inc. of Lexington, Neb., violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by scheming with unknown manufacturers to traffic fake Lipitor.

The RICO statute originally was aimed at organized crime but includes provisions for civil cases when someone is harmed by a pattern of illegal activity.

Fake Lipitor could have harmful effects if taken in place of the real drug because it has not been proven effective at lowering cholesterol, although it contains the same active ingredient, atorvastatin. The Food and Drug Administration has not identified any harmful substances in the fake tablets, but testing continues.

The lawsuit also claims the distributors violated several consumer laws by falsely advertising their products as Lipitor.

Last month, the maker of the authentic Lipitor, Pfizer Inc., filed suit against Albers Medical and Med-Pro to stop the companies from selling more fake versions of the drug. The FDA ordered Albers Medical Distributors to recall 100,000 bottles marked as Lipitor on May 23 after the fake drug was discovered on the market. The recall was later expanded.

Both companies previously have denied involvement in the counterfeiting. Attorneys for Albers Medical and Med-Pro did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit claims that despite the recall, the distributors have failed to provide refunds to consumers.

Attorney Thomas Sobol said consumers were swindled twice: once when they paid the full price for the fake Lipitor and again when they took the pills believing they would help reduce their risk of illness.

"These distributors failed to match the promises on the label with the product in the bottle," Sobol said in a news release. "Considering the enormous potential for harm to the millions of people who take Lipitor, we believe the distributors fell flat in their obligation to protect consumers."

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