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San Diego's US Attorney Going After Prescription Drugs From Mexican Cartels

Laura Duffy, Prescription Drugs
San Diego's US Attorney Going After Pharma Cartels
GUESTS:Laura Duffy, US Attorney, San Diego Sherrie Rubin, Hope Foundation Director

Additional Information

For more information on this important issue, go on the Southern District of California United States Attorney’s Office website

-To educate yourself about the issues;

-To learn about the problem and how to talk to young people in your life; and

-To take a pledge committing yourself to prevention of RX abuse.

Recent statistics show that prescription drugs remain the number one accidental cause of death in San Diego County.

Now the San Diego U.S. Attorney's office has joined with other law enforcement agencies to target Mexican drug cartels, including in Tijuana, moving in on the traffic in prescription drugs. Powerful traditional Mexican cartels are exacting "taxes" from the newer pharma-cartels in exchange for permission to operate.


The San Diego U.S. Attorney's office has targeted associates of Mexican pharma-cartels. In a press release, it said those indicted or charged include "web masters, pharmacy workers, couriers, a doctor and a former Crips street gang member."

The San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy told KPBS her office has seen cartels "whose primary drug of importation and distribution is pharmaceutical drugs."

She said this includes OxyContin, Vicodin and similar drugs.

"Two things are happening here," she said. "They're being diverted into the United States from doctors offices, from pharmacies, from clinics, and from individuals who are willing to sell them. They are then being couriered down across the border and sold on the black market in cities like Tijuana and Mexicali.

"Once those drugs are into the black market, they're being sold on the Internet. And they're being sold without prescriptions, being sold to adolescents and to teens and to anybody really who contacts them. They're being sold on Twitter, they're being advertised with popups. All things through the Internet that our young people have access to."


She said payments are taken over the Internet.

"Once the payment is received, those drugs are crossed back over into the United States, taken to locations in the United States from where they're shipped out, and they use the commercial mail system," she said. "This is something that people have very ready access to through the Internet."

She said trafficking also comes from family medicine cabinets and pantries.

"So we're really dealing with two parallel problems that are going on here," she said.

To focus on those who abuse prescription drugs, San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy has joined the Medicine Abuse Project at

The drug abuse campaign aims to prevent half a million teens from abusing medicine within five years and urges parents and guardians to take control of their medicine cabinets.

In San Diego County, the number of people who died as a result of prescription drug abuse increased by 26 percent in the last five years. Local law enforcement has targeted prescription drug abuse for several years, even establishing an Oxy Task Force aimed at the abuse of the powerful prescription Oxycodone.

Duffy was also asked how she would handle the four local cities with medical marijuana ordinances on their November ballots. She said if the propositions pass, her obligation is to enforce federal law by “addressing retail marijuana businesses.”

Aaron Rubin's Story

Corrected: December 8, 2023 at 12:25 AM PST
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.