News and Press Releases

Common antibiotic placed in cold medicine package, returned and resold putting public at risk

March 17, 2006

JAMES CHRISTOPER AYERS, 28, of Snohomish, Washington was sentenced to one year in prison and three years of supervised release for Tampering with Consumer Products. On November 28, 2005, AYERS pleaded guilty, admitting he had shoplifted a package of Target cold medicine. AYERS then replaced the blister package of medicine with an Italian made antibiotic, and returned the package to a Target store for a cash refund. In sentencing AYERS, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik told AYERS to battle his methamphetamine addiction and get his life back on track.

AYERS was arrested September 13, 2005, following an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In mid May 2005, the FDA received a complaint from a consumer who had purchased Target cold medication at the Northgate store in Seattle. The consumer was a registered nurse who noticed the capsules in the cold medicine package were unlike capsules previously purchased. The consumer determined the capsules were the antibiotic tetracycline made by an Italian pharmaceutical company. The consumer is allergic to tetracycline. Some people can have severe allergic reactions to tetracycline. When taken in combination with certain other drugs, tetracycline can be fatal.

When Target learned of the tampering it pulled the cold medicine off the shelves. The store found no other suspicious boxes. Working with surveillance tapes from target stores in Everett and Seattle, the box of tampered cold medicine was traced to JAMES AYERS. Store officials determined that after AYERS returned the shoplifted box for cash, it was mistakenly replaced on the shelf for sale.

Under federal law passed following the Tylenol tampering cases in 1982, AYERS faced as much as ten years in prison. However, because the offense was not intended to cause bodily injury and did not cause any injury, the government agreed to recommend a sentence between 12 and 24 months in prison. Following his guilty plea, AYERS was found to have violated the conditions of his release to a halfway house by possessing and using methamphetamine and alcohol.

“I don’t understand how you can enter a plea and two days later have that situation at the halfway house,” Chief Judge Lasnik stated. “You have to get to the point where you realize drugs are deadly poison for you.”

The case was investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Karyn S. Johnson.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office at (206) 553-4110.

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