Companies from Texas and Georgia were misleading mostly Latino consumers by selling a dietary supplement whose name is nearly identical to the Spanish translation of a widely popular antibiotic, Texas authorities said.
Now the Texas attorney general's office is suing the companies, claiming their marketing tactics is deceiving consumers. The suit, filed last week in state district court, says the companies further their marketing ploy by making the packaging similar to that of Amoxicillin.
The antibiotic, Amoxilina, was once available in Mexico without a prescription, the suit says.
Mexico passed a law in 2010 banning the over-the-counter sale of antibiotics and now drugstores are required to withhold the prescription so consumers can't make repeated purchases of antibiotics.
The state said Friday it obtained a temporary restraining order against San Martin Distributing Inc. of Houston and Lawrenceville Ga.-based Multimex Distributions Inc. that prohibits both companies from selling the dietary supplement or claiming that it is the same or similar to amoxicillin. The suit says that the dietary supplement's packaging had a text in Spanish that stated it has natural antibiotic properties.
The suit also states that the packaging failed to translate into Spanish disclaimers that alerted consumers that Amoxilina had not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and that it is not intended to treat or cure any illness.
The Texas Department of State Health Services started an investigation after learning that children that were treated in April at an Austin hospital, has been previously given these products by their parents who mistakenly believed they were antibiotics.
Cynthia Rubio, a translator at Dell Hospital in Austin, said in an affidavit that a Spanish speaking mother brought a child with symptoms of an ear infection and when a doctor prescribed amoxicillin, the woman said she already had given her child that drug and showed him a box of Amoxilina.
"I was astounded by the similarity," Rubio said. "The doctor initially also believed it to be amoxicillin."
Patrick James Crocker, the Medical Emergency director at that hospital, stated in an affidavit that "the packaging was almost identical to the packaging of amoxicillin, which is sold under the name Amoxil, in Mexico."
An investigation by the Texas Attorney General Consumer Protection Division found the product for sale in at least four neighborhood stores in Austin.
Multimex owner Sandra Salazar says her company didn't intend to mislead customers.
"At no moment we have sold antibiotics ... I don't know why they say we are misleading people," Salazar said in a phone conversation Friday from her office in Georgia.
Officials with San Martin didn't immediately return a phone message.
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation.
Multimex also was sued in March in Florida for copyright violations and unfair competition related to the sale of Amoxilina and other dietary supplements in that state.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.
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