Kingpins identified in massive counterfeit HIV medications scheme

Truvada PrEP medication pills, which are blue, on a white table next to a bottle.
Photo: Shutterstock

Gilead Sciences has identified two men as “kingpins” in an alleged scheme to supply counterfeit HIV medication to U.S. pharmacies.

In a court document unsealed last week, Lazaro Roberto Hernandez and Armando Herrera were among dozens of defendants named in the biopharmaceutical company’s ongoing civil lawsuit aimed at stopping the alleged counterfeit distribution operation.

“Gilead’s ongoing investigation revealed that these two kingpins directed the initial sale of the counterfeits through suppliers created solely to sell counterfeit medications,” the company said in a statement.

Hernandez was arrested in June and charged with distributing more than $230 million in adulterated HIV drugs.

As Plus reported in July, prosecutors allege that between 2019 and 2021, Hernandez and his co-conspirators established licensed wholesale drug distribution companies in multiple states to sell their altered HIV drugs at a steep discount to unsuspecting pharmacies across the country.

In 2021, Gilead warned that knock-off versions of its Biktarvy and Descovy medications were circulated through pharmacies due to unauthorized distributors. Both medications are used to treat people living with HIV. Descovy is also used as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV-negative people from contracting the virus.

The operation allegedly involved illegally acquiring pills manufactured by Gilead and repackaging them in used bottles purchased for cash often from people who are homeless or suffering from drug addiction. Other pills were found to contain potentially dangerous drugs, like the powerful antipsychotic Seroquel.

The bottles were then resealed to appear unopened and then sold.

Gilead has been pursuing the alleged counterfeit operation with its civil lawsuit since last year. The company said it was able to identify Hernandez and Herrera by matching approximate locations of their disposable burner cell phones with flight records, according to Reuters.

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