Criminals targeting the Hispanic community in Texas distributed fake drugs with names that resemble children's antibiotics to pharmacies across the state, sparking a state investigation and a warning to parents.
The over-the-counter products, described as "dietary supplements" by the Texas Department of State Health Services, have made their way into pharmacies statewide, it said.
"DSHS officials are concerned that people taking the products believe they will provide the beneficial health effects of an antibiotic drug," said a statement from the Texas health department.
"The products do not appear to have any active drug ingredients and are not approved to treat medical conditions."
The products come in syrup, ointment, capsule and drinkable forms, and have names like Amoxilina, Pentrexcilina, Ampitrexyl, Citricillin, Amoximiel and Pentreximil.
Officials learned of the situation after a hospital in Austin, Texas reported treating "several patients whose parents mistakenly believed they had been treating their children with an antibiotic," it said.
Health authorities say illness and infections can get worse if antibiotics are needed but delayed, and urge consumers to seek a doctor's help if they are sick and think they need drug treatment.
"The maker of these products has no scruples and is preying upon parents of children to make a quick buck," said Marv Shepard, head of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a consumer group that is seeking to publicize the problem.
"They use deception and jeopardize the health of children; this type of fraudulent marketing is unacceptable and despicable."
Texas's health department, which first issued its statement in late April, said it is "working with other agencies, including the US Food and Drug Administration, to investigate product origin, distribution, labeling and advertising."
Stores are being urged to remove the products from their shelves.
The FDA declined to comment, saying it is "agency policy to not discuss investigations," according to spokeswoman Shelly Burgess.
"While we are still finding counterfeit drugs that are trying to make their way into the US drug supply chain, fortunately we have a regulatory framework at the federal and state level that currently make the US drug supply chain one of the safest in the world."