The Union Recorder

Local Sports

December 21, 2012

Big Pharma cashes in on HGH abuse

(Continued)

ATLANTA —

FDA regulations ban the sale of HGH as an anti-aging drug. In fact, since 1990, prescribing it for things like weight loss and strength conditioning has been punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison.

Such marketing claims are routinely made at hormone clinics like Palm Beach Life Extension, whose owners are among 13 people now awaiting trial on federal charges in Florida in a steroids and HGH distribution case brought last year.

"Grow YOUNG with Us!" screamed a banner on the company's now-defunct website, which advertised that HGH can reduce body fat, improve vision, strengthen the immune system, aid kidney function, lower blood pressure and enhance memory and mood.

The clinic arranged to have its clients' prescriptions filled at Treasure Coast Pharmacy, in Jensen Beach, Fla.

In 2009, the FBI recorded a phone call between the pharmacy's owner, Peter Del Toro, and a doctor in Elkton, Md., who was cooperating with agents after being implicated in a related steroid-distribution case.

Their talk, documented in a court filing, illustrates how things often work in the networks of pharmacies and clinics that drive HGH sales.

Patients submitted a medical history form by mail and took a blood test. But in most instances, the indictment said, the evaluation was a sham: One doctor was charged with giving a clinic a pad of blank, signed prescriptions to save him the chore of signing off on each diagnosis. He got $50 for every drug order bearing his name, the indictment said.

Dr. Rodney Baltazar, the Maryland physician cooperating with the FBI, sometimes consulted briefly with patients via webcam. But he made it clear in the call that those evaluations were perfunctory at best.

Baltazar was a gynecologist, not an endocrinologist. He said he knew "a little bit" about HGH and testosterone, which are often prescribed in tandem, but he relied largely on clinic salespeople to set doses.

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