Law enforcement officials around the country are cracking down on the illegal use of Serostim, a growth hormone made by Serono that is effective in fighting AIDS-related wasting syndrome, The Wall Street Journal reports. Because the drug promotes muscle growth, it has become popular among bodybuilders to quickly increase muscle mass and is frequently sold illegally for $1,000 to $2,000 for a one-week supply. The prescription medication costs AIDS patients about $20,000 for a three-month supply. However, the Journal reports that few AIDS patients use the drug, which often ends up being sold on the black market. Police have made Serostim-related arrests in California, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey, and investigations are ongoing in several other cities and states.
Several agencies have implemented new procedures to prevent illegal sales of the drug or the filling of prescriptions for patients who do not need the medication. Some state Medicaid programs are now requiring pharmacists to receive approval from a state program office before filling Serostim prescriptions. Serono in 2002 implemented a secure distribution system designed to track individual boxes of the medication from the drug company to patients receiving the drug. But despite these efforts, health officials say the illicit sale of Serostim is continuing. "[It] has not all been curtailed," Bill Powers, Medicaid investigator in San Diego County, Calif., told the Journal.
About 5,000 U.S. AIDS patients are prescribed Serostim each year. The medication was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1996 to treat AIDS-related wasting.