Botox Popularity Spurs Counterfeit Dangers

Eric Kaplan is a chiropractor, a wealthy business consultant and the author of a book about healthy living. But now he is unable to swallow and must be fed through a tube -- because of an elective medical procedure he underwent last November.

Kaplan and his wife, Bonnie, say they thought they were getting Botox treatments, which they hoped would make them look younger. When Botox is injected in a very tiny amount into certain areas of the face, it can prevent those muscles from contracting and creating frown lines.

Botox is made from deadly Botulinum toxin type A which can cause paralysis. But, Botox has no known serious side effects when used correctly, and is the only Food and Drug Administration-approved product of its kind. It's also expensive. Patients generally pay about $300 to $900 per treatment.

As a result, demand and expense has led to a thriving black market in bootleg or substitute products sold at cut-rate prices -- without any safety protections at all.

Kaplan, 52, and his 53-year-old wife say they fell victim to such a bootleg batch. They were a healthy and active couple when they went into a south Florida medical clinic to get about six injections each. They hoped the treatments would ease wrinkles around their eyes, bridge of their nose and foreheads.

Within two days of their treatment, they were so devastated, they were flown to a paralysis recovery center in Atlanta. After two months, Bonnie Kaplan can swallow and is regaining her mobility, but she still cannot speak.

"She sits in a bed next to me because I wanted to get rid of my wrinkles," Eric Kaplan told "Primetime Live"'s Chris Cuomo. "Instead of turning back the clock, they hit a fast-forward button."

Not Botox

When the Kaplans decided to get Botox treatments, they thought it would make them look better at this year's round of holiday parties. Eric Kaplan said another chiropractor, Tom Toia, offered them Botox injections at his clinic from a doctor named Bach McComb.

Kaplan said he has known Toia for 25 years. "He was a former president of our county society, he was an honorable man," he said.

But the material McComb injected the Kaplans with was not Botox, but a raw-grade Botulinum toxin type A, according to federal authorities. Eric Kaplan said McComb told him he was using Botox. "That's all I ever knew," he said.

"What you had here was physicians, or unlicensed physicians as the case may be, buying the product. And then cutting it with water, trying to approximate 'gee, how much can we get away with.' And then trying to sell it again as Botox," said Stuart Grossman, who is representing the Kaplans in a civil lawsuit filed in Broward County, Fla., Circuit Court.

They are seeking unspecified damages against McComb, the clinic where the shots were administered, its owners, and the two companies that make and distribute the toxin.

Doctor Also Paralyzed

The Kapans got their injections on the day before Thanksgiving. Two days later, they were rushed to the emergency room. First, Eric Kaplan couldn't swallow. Then he couldn't speak. "Then my teeth froze like I had lockjaw. Eventually I became totally paralyzed. I had no movement whatsoever. I couldn't open my eyes," he told Cuomo.

Kaplan says it was two weeks before he had the slightest movement in his body. He says that during that time, "I wanted to die. I wish God would have taken me."

In a bizarre twist, McComb also injected his girlfriend and himself with the same formulation the day before he treated the Kaplans. The two of them were also paralyzed and are being treated at a rehab center in Bayonne, N.J.

Kaplan has no sympathy for McComb. "May he rot in hell," Kaplan said.

ABC News attempted to contact Toia. He refused to comment. David Bogenschutz, an attorney for McComb, also declined to comment.

No Secret

The news that four people in South Florida developed severe cases of botulism caught the authorities' attention and led to a nationwide investigation.

According to authorities, it turns out the clinic that injected the Kaplans was buying bogus Botox from a marketing company in Arizona -- Toxin Research International.

TRI wasn't only selling the bogus Botox. Despite labeling it "not for human use," the company brazenly held "tutorials" on how to use "botulinum" on humans, and distributed the product to more than 200 doctors around the country, according to federal investigators.

Investigators also found that TRI obtained its product from San Jose, Calif.-based List Biological Labs, which produces deadly toxins for research purposes. Records showed List had also sold raw toxin directly to the clinic where the Kaplans went.

Marcos Jimenez, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida told "Primetime" that it's "legal to buy directly from List a quantity of botulinum toxin that is less than .5 milligram per transaction." But it would be illegal if doctors told the Kaplans they were getting Botox and injected them with something else.

So it seems the clinic had cut out the middleman, TRI, and gotten raw toxin, but when the doctor there, Bach McComb, was mixing the fake Botox, he miscalculated, and wound up injecting the Kaplans and himself with 2,000 times the allowable dose of toxin in Botox.

"Primetime" tried to contact officials from both List and TRI. Neither responded.

Wheels of Justice Move

On Wednesday, Jimenez filed a 48-count criminal indictment against the two doctors who ran TRI. McComb was also indicted, for allegedly running a scheme to distribute fake Botox.

The Kaplans say that is a rare bright spot, and they hope no one else has to suffer their fate. Doctors still don't know how long it will take for them to completely recover. At least, they say, they have each other.

Cuomo asked Bonnie Kaplan what she dreams about when this is all over. Bonnie, who still can't use her vocal cords, communicates by writing on a blackboard.

"Smelling the roses," she wrote.

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