Federal agents and Ramsey County deputies raided more than 15 vendor stalls at the Hmongtown Marketplace on Tuesday, seizing hundreds of pounds of drugs, including steroids, cyanide and painkillers.
For several months, the Ramsey County Violent Crime Enforcement Team and the FDA have been investigating the distribution of unmarked or misbranded pills from stalls inside the marketplace at 217 Como Avenue in St. Paul.
Investigators said injuries, sicknesses and deaths have been tied to the under-the-table distribution -- and many of the vendors had been warned in the past. Yet, the practice hasn't stopped and police said they needed to take the next step.
"We are trying to take out an unsafe way of doing business and an illegal distribution of medicines," said Randy Gustafson, public information officer with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
The three hour raid on Tuesday morning turned up hundreds of pounds of unmarked or misbranded pills, drugs, and syringes -- including suspected sodium cyanide, steroids, penicillin and opiates from more than 15 vendor stalls.
WARNED VENDORS MAY FACE CHARGES
No arrests were made, but the evidence will be processed and criminal charges are expected. Investigators said many of the vendors have been warned in the past by local police and the FDA.
"The safety of the public will be improved by stopping the illegal distribution of these unknown drug products by non-pharmaceutical sellers," Ramsey County Chief Deputy John Kirkwood said. "These vendors have been knowingly placing the community at risk by engaging in these illegal sales and distribution."
Officers say the problem is further complicated because many Hmong immigrants don't trust Western medicine and prefer to get their health remedies from someone in their own community.
"People move here, think that it's OK, still want to do it that way -- but because things don't happen through a regulatory process, there's no oversight," warned Aggie Leitheiser.
Despite the previous warnings, officers filled up 80 30-gallon bags with potions and pills during the raid.
"They were hiding all these things under curtains, under camouflage," Gustafson said. "It was really something -- a far worse problem than we thought."
DANGERS OF UNMARKED MEDICINE
The Ramsey County sheriff's office said mislabeled or unlabeled drugs that were being distributed at the marketplace pose the same dangers as expired and unused medicines left around the home.
"Expired and unknown medicines in homes can pose a risk to children, particularly in terms of poisoning," Kirkwood said. "Poisoning is the second leading cause of accidental death in Minnesota."
People can safely dispose of unwanted medications at drop-off sites operated by county sheriff's offices in the metro area. Find a location at www.co.ramsey.mn.us/sheriff/community/medicine_collection