A company that distributed human growth hormone to "well known athletes and entertainers" has agreed to pay a $10.5 million penalty and cooperate with ongoing law enforcement investigations, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Under the terms of the agreement, Specialty Distribution Services Inc., a subsidiary of Express Scripts Inc., will not face prosecution for three years if it fully complies with terms of the agreement.
Steve Littlejohn, a spokesman for St. Louis-based Express Scripts, said the company fully cooperated in the federal investigation and has already implemented procedures to prevent the illegal distribution of human growth hormone.
"Express Scripts does not condone the use of human growth hormone for anti-aging, cosmetic or performance enhancement purposes," the company said in a news release.
Specialty Distribution Services "knowingly distributed human growth hormone to certain well known athletes and entertainers, including a well known athlete in Massachusetts, knowing that their intended use was athletic performance enhancement, cosmetic or anti-aging," in violation of federal law, the U.S. attorney's office said in a news release.
Prosecutors did not mention any names of those believed to have bought HGH from the firm.
The drug in question was approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for specific purposes, including treatment of children with growth failure due to inadequate growth hormones, prosecutors said.
"The public should also realize that human growth hormone has not been shown to be safe and effective for athletic, cosmetic or anti-aging uses, and it must not be promoted or distributed for such uses," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said in a statement.
The company illegally shipped the drugs five times between October 2000 and December 2005, according to court documents prosecutors filed with the agreement.
Human growth hormone was sent to a "well known professional athlete in Massachusetts" in January 2002 and again in October 2003 following a doctor's request, the documents said.
Drugs were sent to an entertainer in March 2002 at the request of a doctor who said he was filling the prescription at the patient's request and that the drugs were "not medically necessary," according to the documents. The doctor identified his practice as an "anti-aging clinic."
The company shipped the drugs to a 6-foot-5, 276-pound "entertainer/athlete" in January 2003 after a doctor said it was "medically necessary," even though the dosage was typically used for performance enhancement, the documents said.
Specialty Distribution Services had pharmacists and other employees who should have recognized the prescriptions as illegitimate, prosecutors said. Under the agreement, it will better train employees to recognize fake prescriptions.
Human growth hormone is produced naturally by the body throughout life, but can cause complications when taken in excessive amounts, said Dr. Linn Goldberg, professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
"When you are a fully grown adult who takes HGH in excess, it thickens your bones and skin, puts you at risk for diabetes and other conditions, and causes fluid retention, joint pain and nerve damage," he said.
Goldberg said he is not surprised that entertainers and athletes are using it, because it can cost $100 per day. Prosecutors said HGH treatment can cost up to $20,000 per year.
"Athletes are looking for the fountain of youth, and the fountain of youth is not to be found in a bottle," he said.
Mo. firm to pay $10.5M penalty for distributing human growth hormone