Guilty plea in US fake meds, pharma production kit case

A Pittsburgh man has pleaded guilty to charges of holding counterfeit drugs for sale and possession of equipment for manufacturing falsified medicines.

Joshua Regatuso (26) of Brighton Heights admitted the charges last week, and is due to be sentenced at a hearing on December 8. He faces a total sentence of up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

He was arrested after an investigation revealed that he used another individual to receive binding powder and metal die stamps for use in a pill press, thought to have been used to make counterfeit alprazolam pills using etizolam, a medication not approved by the FDA which is more potent and could lead to overdose.

Under US law, it is a violation to purchase a pill press without notifying the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), although it is currently not illegal to own one. However, it is against the law to possess a pill press with a die mould that resembles a prescription pill or trademarked pharmaceutical drug.

On May 6 of last year, agents seized two pill presses, roughly 250 grams of etizolam powder, fake alprazolam tablets containing etizolam, and two bags of binding powder.

A second raid uncovered several thousand counterfeit alprazolam tablets and a baggie of etizolam powder. The tablets had the same markings as have been used by a company that the FDA has authorised to distribute a 2mg pill containing alprazolam, according to a department of Justice statement.

"The fake pills that Regatuso was manufacturing and distributing represent the most important enforcement priority for the [Drug Enforcement Administration]," said Thomas Hodnett, special agent in charge of the DEA's Philadelphia field division.

"While a significant quantity of the fake pills that law enforcement seizes are manufactured in other countries, we continue to see locally manufactured fake pills that are produced in clandestine laboratories such as the one operated by Regatuso," he added.

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