US authorities have uncovered a nationwide black market that sold HIV medications and other drugs obtained from patients on the Medicaid health insurance plan, totalling around $108m.
The scheme saw drugs purchased from patients who received Medicaid, the US government-run medical insurance programme, before being repackaged and sold off at a profit.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation found that some Medicaid recipients, including AIDS patients, would fill their monthly prescriptions at little to no cost before selling the drugs to aggregators for cash. The drug containers were then changed before being sold to pharmacists through a black market distribution network, with pharmacists attracted by heavy discounts.
US authorities confirmed that the scheme has cost the Medicaid programme $108m over the past 15 months, but feared the total going back seven years could be as high as $500m.
Federal prosecutors have charged 48 people in connection with the bust and 35 remain in custody, however no pharmacists or Medicaid recipients who sold the drugs have been charged.
Those in custody have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, healthcare fraud, prescription drug fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Those convicted face up to 20 years in prison.
New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly highlighted one particular case in which a patient on Medicaid received $50 for a bottle of Abbott Laboratories' HIV medication Kaletra, which retails for over $600.
Other drugs that were targeted by the aggregators included HIV medication Atripla, co-produced by Gilead Sciences and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as drugs to treat asthma and schizophrenia.