The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 14, 2013

Authorities seize mislabeled drugs from St. Paul market

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Authorities said Thursday they have seized hundreds of pounds of cyanide, steroids, opiates and other mislabeled or unlabeled drugs from more than 15 vendors at a Hmong market in St. Paul.

No arrests were made during Tuesday's search of one building at the Hmongtown Marketplace, but authorities said they are still investigating. Ramsey County Sheriff's Office spokesman Randy Gustafson said drugs from the marketplace may have played a role in numerous overdoses; and police say authorities are also investigating whether a man who recently committed suicide by ingesting cyanide may have purchased it from a vendor at the marketplace.

Authorities say the case is one of public safety because consumers might not know what they are buying. Gustafson said none of the vendors were licensed pharmacists, and they had been warned in the past to stop selling the drugs by local authorities as well agents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"These vendors have been knowingly placing the community at risk by engaging in these illegal sales and distribution," Ramsey County Sheriff's Chief Deputy John Kirkwood said in a statement.

The voicemail box for Hmongtown Marketplace was full. An email sent by The Associated Press to the marketplace was not immediately returned.

While some of the drugs were in an open display, authorities said Thursday that they also found pills, syringes and other drugs under curtains, inside baggies and in unmarked containers. Gustafson said the drugs took up 80 evidence bins.

"The amount that we got was so overwhelming that they are still inventorying it," Gustafson said. "It was like an open-air pharmaceutical. It was incredible."

St. Paul Police Department spokesman Howie Padilla said most of the vendors at the marketplace were not involved. He said less than half of the booths in one building were found to have drugs, which were sold alongside a variety of other goods.

"If these are prescription-level pills, doctors are the ones who should be selling them," Padilla said.

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