News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón
June 18, 2018
Twitter: @GeorgeGascon
CONTACT:     ALEX BASTIAN (415) 553-1931          |        NIKESH PATEL (415) 734-3205


SAN FRANCISCO – Today, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced charges against Vi Thieu Binh, age 67, for selling and holding for sale prescription drugs without a license. Binh is also charged with selling and holding for sale counterfeit, misbranded, adulterated, and unapproved drugs. 
"Regulations on who can sell prescription drugs exist to protect consumers," said District Attorney George Gascón. "In this case, someone became seriously ill as a result of acquiring drugs from an unlicensed seller. If you know of retail establishments unlawfully selling prescription drugs, please contact the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health." 
According to court records, Binh owns Hue An Company, a San Francisco retail establishment that purportedly sells herbs and ginseng. Binh became the subject of an investigation following an incident in November 2014, when a 73-year-old male allegedly ingested Anti Rheuma Capsules purchased from an unlicensed seller in Oakland and was hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit at San Leandro Hospital. 
Anti Rheuma Capsules are nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs that are intended to suppress pain, reduce inflammation, minimize joint deterioration, and treat rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. They are not approved by the FDA and are illegal. The capsules, which the individual had purchased at a retail store in Oakland, listed ingredients that required a prescription. 
According to court records, the Office of Criminal Investigations of the Federal Drug Administration (“FDA-OCI”), as part of its larger investigation, subsequently received information that Hue An Company was also a separate potential seller of Anti Rheuma Capsules. A joint investigation by state and federal agencies found that on multiple dates between December 2016 and October 2017, Binh sold and held for sale a variety of drugs, including Anti Rheuma Capsules and those containing prescription ingredients, at Hue An Company. The Anti Rheuma Capsules sold by Binh were found to contain active ingredients that were removed from the U.S. market because they had been deemed to be unsafe or ineffective by the FDA. Many of the drugs sold or held for sale were also counterfeit, misbranded, adulterated, or unapproved by the FDA.
In January 2018, special agents executed a search warrant at Hue An Company, uncovering nearly 600 products believed to be prescription-only, counterfeit, misbranded, adulterated, or unapproved drugs.
The sale and possible sale of counterfeit, falsely labeled, improperly mixed, or new and unapproved drugs are illegal and incredibly dangerous. Consumers should be vigilant when purchasing prescription medication by paying special attention to the person they are buying from.
If a seller does not ask for a prescription, they are likely operating illegally. A licensed professional will require a prescription from a doctor before they can complete the sale. Also, consumers should examine whether the seller has a prominently displayed license. In California, prescription drugs approved by the FDA can only be supplied by entities licensed to hold and dispense them, such as physicians and pharmacists licensed with the California State Board of Pharmacy.
Consumers should also check the validity of the medications they buy to ensure that they do not contain harmful products. If a seller seems to be secretive or make claims that sound too good to be true, the drug may be harmful and/or illegal. If the seller is not transparent about the source of the medication, produces the item from under the counter or some other physically obscured location rather than a customer-accessible shelf, produces the item from an unlabeled pill bottle, or produces single pills for sale, these are potential warning signs that the medication may be counterfeit, unregulated, or a prescription drug that the seller is not permitted to sell.
Consumers should also confirm that their medication's container fulfills certain requirements. Make sure the label is not removed or altered, unsealed, or illegible. In addition, look for the "USP or Consumer Lab Label," which is only awarded to products that have been lab-tested and confirmed to not be contaminated or adulterated. Make sure the manufacturer's address is present and legitimate, and that the drug's registration number appears to be legible and untampered with.
Inspecting the medication itself can also be helpful. If it is in a pill form, the shape of the pills should be relatively uniform, with no apparent or excessive discoloration, swelling, cracking, or other odd appearance deformities. The pills should also be consistent in color, texture, and taste.
If members of the public believe that they have been sold counterfeit or illegal medication, please contact the California Department of Public Health Drug hotline at (800) 495-3232 or a primary healthcare provider.