5 accused of selling drug samples in pharmacies

Federal officials charge 3 pharmacists, 2 doctors in Philadelphia region

December 28, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - Federal officials in Philadelphia charged three pharmacists and two doctors yesterday with illegally selling hundreds of thousands of pills, including popular medications Prilosec, Celebrex and Prozac, that had been handed out as promotional free samples by drug companies.

The samples were sold in retail pharmacies in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pa., federal prosecutors say.

Four other individuals - two of them drug company representatives - were charged this year in federal court in Philadelphia with selling drug samples for cash.

An attorney for one defendant said his client is cooperating with federal investigators and that none of the medications in the free samples had harmed anyone.

The prosecutions are part of an effort by the Justice Department to crack down on abuses in the marketing of prescription drugs through the heavy use of free samples. In the last five years, the government has charged pharmacists and doctors in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts with selling drug samples.

"This is not only a deliberate violation of the law, but it is also an abuse of the trust and confidence consumers place in their physicians and pharmacists," U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said yesterday in a statement announcing the charges. "This kind of behavior can have consequences for patients who have no idea that they're getting potentially expired or misbranded medication because their pharmacist or physician is trying to manipulate the system."

Drug sample sales defrauded customers and third-party pharmacy benefit managers who ultimately paid for what had been free samples, said David R. Hoffman, assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia who is prosecuting the case.

According to court papers, pharmacists bought thousands of samples at steep discounts from doctors or drug company salesmen, broke open the individualized packages and dispensed the medications with other pills in inventory. The process of selling the drug samples - which took place between 1993 and mid-2001 - also made it impossible to track the safety of the medications, Hoffman said. An investigation is continuing.

Charged yesterday with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and illegally selling prescription drugs were pharmacists Mark Rubin, 51, of Southampton; Bruce Goldberg, 53, of Huntingdon Valley; and Howard Dall, 58, of Ambler. All three could receive jail time and fines if convicted.

Rubin owned the Summerdale Pharmacy and Goldberg owned the K&A Pharmacy and the Marcus Foster Pharmacy, all three in Philadelphia, court records state. Dall owned Ralph's Pharmacy in Conshohocken and the Gladwyne Pharmacy. The U.S. attorney noted that the defendants no longer own any of the five pharmacies.

According to court records, Rubin paid about $500,000 from January 1993 through September 2000 for samples of drugs that included Celebrex, Paxil, Prozac, Serzone, Biaxin, Augmentin, Zyprexa and Remeron. Goldberg spent about $250,000 on samples. Court records did not state how much Dall paid for the samples.

"Mr. Dall has cooperated with the Department of Justice in this investigation over the last couple of years," Walter W. Cohen, his Harrisburg attorney, said yesterday. "What is important is that no evidence exists that any customers were harmed" when they took the samples, he said.

Harvey Sernovitz, a Philadelphia attorney who is representing Goldberg, had no comment. David M. Laigaie, Rubin's attorney, did not return a phone call.

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