In a startling disclosure, prominent Las Vegas poker player Lazaro Hernandez has been exposed as the mastermind behind a $230 million counterfeit prescription medication operation, focusing particularly on crucial HIV drugs. This scheme involved tampering with pill bottles containing HIV treatments like Biktarvy and Descovy, which were then resold to pharmacies at discounted rates.
At times, the fraudulent medications included Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug, instead of the prescribed HIV treatment, presenting a significant threat to patient well-being. This operation is indicative of a broader and more menacing issue of drug counterfeiting. The World Health Organization estimates the annual global value of this illicit trade to be an astonishing $431 billion. In the United States, the incidents of counterfeiting witnessed a 17 percent rise in 2022, with a total of 2,121 reported cases.
Pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of Biktarvy and Descovy, filed a lawsuit in July 2021 against 161 defendants. The list includes pharmacies and wholesale distributors alleged to be complicit in the counterfeiting operation. In a parallel move, Johnson & Johnson has also filed a lawsuit over counterfeiting of its HIV medication, Symtuza.