Five Atlantic City stores were selling prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction under the guise of herbal sex enhancers, authorities announced Thursday.

Seven people have been charged in a joint investigation that began last summer and also resulted in the seizure of about 200 cartons of counterfeit stamped, untaxed or out-of-state cigarettes, city police Lt. James Sarkos said.

Packages of Black Ant, Stree Overlord, NiteRider and Power-X were taken from the Tourism District businesses during the state Division of Consumer Affairs’ Safe Summer 2012 initiative. On Thursday, police charged five people with possession of prescription-legend drugs and possession with intent to distribute after state lab tests confirmed the pills contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, or tadalafil, which is marketed as Cialis.

Prescription legend drugs require a doctor’s prescription that is filled by a licensed pharmacist. Two of the seven charged do not face the drug counts but are accused in the illegal cigarette sales in the crackdown that joined the Atlantic City Police Department’s Vice Unit, state Treasury Department Office of Criminal Investigation and the Division of Consumer Affairs. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency also assisted.

The stores could lose their city mercantile licenses, said Sarkos, of the Vice Unit. The information about the businesses will be forwarded to the city for a decision. They are Food 4 Less at 1738 Atlantic Ave., Midtown Grocery at 1638 Atlantic, 24 Seven Food Mart at 1406 Atlantic, JFK Convenience at 3814 Ventnor Ave. and the New Asia Bazaar at 23 S. Kentucky Ave.

The Safe Summer initiative looks to keep illegal drugs out of stores and keep games of chance fair.

But a big chance is what people take when they buy the pills, Sarkos warned.

“When you buy something on the street, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said. “When you get it back from the lab, it’s different every time.”

In March 2011, the Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer warning that laboratory analysis confirmed sildenafil was in Black Ant pills, which are marketed online as a natural or herbal male enhancement consisting of ground-up ants. Sildenafil may interact with nitrates found in prescription drugs and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Such nitrates are often prescribed to men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease.

The Black Ant tested by the FDA’s lab had three times the starting dosage for the approved product, according to the warning.

“The sale and distribution of prescription legend drugs is controlled under state and federal law for a very important reason,” acting DCA Director Eric Kanefsky said in a release. “Any prescription medication can be dangerous when taken without the oversight of a doctor who knows your overall health and knows the other medications you may be taking; and without the quality control of a licensed pharmacy.”

State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in the release that the medications can pose serious, permanent health damage when taken incorrectly or by patients who are taking certain other medications.

“Their sale without a doctor’s prescription, and by any entity other than a licensed pharmacy, is illegal and dangerous to anyone foolish enough to ingest them,” Chiesa said.

Four people were arrested Thursday: Food 4 Less owner Muhammad Zia, 39, of Atlantic City; 24 Seven Food Mart owner Tariq Mehmood, 46, of Egg Harbor Township; Midtown Grocery owner Ahmed Ahmed, 48, of Atlantic City; and Naeem Tariq, 25, of Egg Harbor Township, whose full relationship to New Asia Bazaar had not been confirmed. JFK Convenience owner Chaudhry Iqbal, 47, of Atlantic City, was arrested last week.

Warrants were also issued for New Asia Bazaar owner Faheem Tariq, 46, of Egg Harbor Township, and 24 Seven Food Mart owner Aliza Akter, 21, of Atlantic City.

Naeem Tariq and Akter are not charged with the illegal drug sales.

Treasury agents also seized more than $10,000 in cash that will be shared among the agencies involved after the cases are adjudicated.

Michael Bryan, director of the state Division of Taxation, lauded the cooperative efforts: “We will continue joint initiatives such as this in our efforts to protect the revenue of the state of New Jersey.”

Atlantic City Police Chief Ernest Jubilee agreed.

“This investigation is a shining example of the great relationships the Atlantic City Police Department has forged with our brother and sister law enforcement agencies,” he said. “We are grateful for their participation and are looking forward to future endeavors.”

Contact Lynda Cohen:

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