CBS 5 goes undercover to investigate black market birth control

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You probably see yerberias, known for selling herbs and vitamins, all around town. But what you may not know is that some of them are part of a black market for birth control.

Yerberias may be a great place to find natural remedies for whatever might be ailing you - maybe a stomachache or a headache. But CBS 5 News has learned some Valley yerberias are also a great place to find birth control, oftentimes brought here from Mexico.

We asked for contraceptives at five yerberias in Phoenix, and got some at two of them, for about $20 each, without a prescription.

We got our hands on four different kinds - three sets of pills and one injection. The instructions and writing on the boxes are in Spanish - that is, on the ones that came with a box. One clerk told our customer she got the birth control in Nogales.

We showed Hal Wand, the executive director of the Arizona Board of Pharmacy, our undercover video.

"It looks to me that they're selling illegal birth control pills, most of them look to be labeled in Spanish," Wand said. He added that is a federal offense; all labels must be in English. But that's not all that's wrong with this picture.

"They are prescription items so they would have to have a pharmacy permit and a licensed pharmacist working there," he said.

Wand's office checked into the permits for these locations, and while the two yerberias are licensed with the board - meaning they can sell non-pharmaceutical drugs - they don't have pharmacy permits.

"There could be a $1,000 fine for each item that was sold or had been stocked at the place," Wand said.

But it's not just against the law. It's also unsafe.

"You don't know if you're getting a product that's effective, so you might be getting a birth control that's expired," said Cynthia Cabello with the Women's Care Center Clinic in Mesa. She said while there are plenty of reasons women go to yerberias to buy birth control, the risks far outweigh the price.

"It's cheaper to get the pills at a place like this," she said. "I did have one patient that came in and actually said that they bought the birth control pills and she did get pregnant on them."

We went back to the stores who sold us the birth control. Neither store admitted to selling the birth control, even after we told them we have video of them doing just that.

Wand told us he's not even sure if these birth control pills are what they claim to be, and could be counterfeit since they're not regulated by the FDA.

"We'll have to investigate all the yerberias in the state that we can find," he told us.

Since that is such a large undertaking, in the meantime Wand says he'll open a complaint against the yerberias that sell these contraceptives. But the advice both Wand and Cabello give: If you have these contraceptives in your medicine cabinet, destroy them.

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