Earlier this month, the CEO of a printing and packaging company pleaded guilty to making and selling counterfeit packaging for pet medications.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston, Texas, Paul S. Rodriguez, Jr. was the subject of an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations.

They found that Mr. Rodriguez manufactured, sold, and shipped counterfeit packaging that was made to look like popular Merial and Zoetis brand veterinary products, including Frontline and Rimadyl. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison and up to $2 million in fines.

This case is just one example of a serious problem that most pet owners underestimate. Most major veterinary drug manufacturers only sell their products through licensed veterinarians. Yet an increasing number of people are purchasing their pet medications through websites or catalogs.

Drug manufacturers have been warning against ordering from these sources for years, citing actual examples of improperly stored products, foreign medications, counterfeit drugs and even repackaged expired products. As a result, many will not guarantee their products purchased through these sources.

While most cases go unprosecuted, the guilty plea of Mr. Rodriguez raises disturbing questions for pet owners. Mr. Rodriguez has admitted to spending a year and a half printing labels and packaging and shipping them to multiple states. How many thousands of fake bottles of Rimadyl did he make? How many thousands of fake Frontline packages did he produce? What did those counterfeit packages get filled with and where did they end up being sold?

I recently had a patient whose hormone imbalance had been well-controlled, but started having symptoms again after the owner purchased the medication online.

I called the manufacturer with the owner in the room to ask about the reliability of the drug. They stated emphatically that they did not guarantee the product and considered it suspect. They shared a story of one veterinarian that had a large amount of this expensive drug expire on his shelf. He ordered fresh drug, removed the new capsules from the box to dispense in pill vials to his clients, filled the new boxes with expired capsules and sold them to an online pharmacy — that then sold it to an unsuspecting pet owner.

The company caught the problem when the pet owner submitted the ineffective expired drugs after a customer service call. The manufacturer’s investigation revealed that the small imprint on the foil seals holding the capsules revealed a different expiration date than the one printed on the box!

For about a year now, with the support of the manufacturer, my practice has offered clients a great deal on trading in online-purchased Nexgard, an oral flea and tick product. The deal is that if they bring us an unopened, unaltered box of Nexgard that was purchased online, we will trade it for a legitimate-sourced product that is fully backed by the manufacturer and our practice.

In addition, we would provide a free additional dose for the trouble. Of all the clients that we have told about this deal, not one has received unaltered packaging from their online purchase! That should be a clear red flag that something is fishy.

If the medication has been removed from its original packaging or that package has been cut away in places or otherwise altered, be very suspicious.

My advice is to purchase your pet medications directly from your veterinarian or their practice’s website. If you really want to purchase elsewhere, I strongly encourage you to call the manufacturer of the medication to check out the website, catalog or pharmacy you intend to use. Just look for the 1-800 number on the package insert of your current supply or ask your veterinarian for the number.

I have scores of clients who have been downright shocked to hear what a drug manufacturer has to say about a seemingly reputable catalog source. Buyer beware!

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Dr. Watts is a companion animal general practitioner and owner of Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care. He can be reached at 540/428-1000.

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