Prescription Antibiotics Sold ‘Under The Counter’ at Some Denver Grocery Stores, Report Finds

By Victoria Kim 11/08/16

Selling prescription medicine "under the counter" is more common than you think.

Prescription Antibiotics Sold ‘Under The Counter’ at Some Denver Grocery Stores, Report Finds

A recent CBS4 investigation found prescription antibiotics being sold “under the counter” at Denver grocery stores, and raised alarm about the potential risks of obtaining and using prescription pills in this manner. 

It’s by no means a new phenomenon. Denver’s 7News produced a similar report in 2007. The practice of illegally selling prescription meds in grocery stores happens all over the U.S. It seems pretty benign in most cases, but some stores peddle more than just antibiotics.

CBS visited two Denver grocery stores on multiple occasions: Carniceria y Fruteria La Mexican and Carniceria La Sierra. There, they were able to purchase the antibiotics tetracycline, penicillin, ampicillin, and children’s amoxicillin. The store clerks produced the meds from behind the counter when CBS asked, on separate occasions, for drugs to help back pain, cough and cold.

A lab test confirmed that the meds were real and not counterfeits. But at the very least, there’s still the risk of purchasing “meds that are not pure or may not be beyond their stability date,” said Dr. Peter Rice of the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy.

Other risks of illegally purchasing prescription drugs include the lack of proper dosing and side effect information, and the risk of an allergic reaction. 

According to CBS, several other grocery stores in the area were busted in the past for selling prescription meds without a license. 

In Mexico, it’s commonplace to purchase prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, says Dr. Tillman Farley, chief medical officer at Salud Family Health Centers and La Clinica Tepeyec. The grocery stores in question, and the people who frequent them, are only keeping with a custom they’re already familiar with, he explained to CBS. 

Santiago Luna, who was born and raised in the State of Michoacán in Western Mexico, knows this firsthand. "It is true that in Mexico, in most pharmacies you can get antibiotics without a prescription," Luna, who now resides in New Jersey, told The Fix. "In many cases, these pharmacies have licensed pharmacists who will prescribe you the meds without a lot of trouble." 

However, Luna says he hasn't seen it being done in the U.S. "I don't know anyone who is doing it," he said. 

While “under the counter” antibiotics can be helpful for people who can’t make it to the doctor’s office, some stores are taking it further by expanding their selection—resembling more of a drug trafficking operation than a grocery store.

One recent example is the closure of three grocery stores in Hartford, Connecticut in early October. Authorities shut down the stores after discovering they illegally sold Viagra, anxiety meds, and opioid painkillers.

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