The Internet: Today’s Drug Dealer

“The Internet is the new street corner drug dealer,” write CNN’s Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick, who were nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Reporting on a Regularly Scheduled Newscast for their pieces on online prescription drug abuse.

They write of a woman whose husband took eight or nine Soma (muscle relaxant pills) a night—the only way he could get to sleep since his back was injured in a car accident. She thought the drugs were being prescribed by a physician, but found out after he died of an accidental overdose that he was buying the pills via the Internet.

She told CNN there is no doubt that her husband was an addict, and that the Internet site that sold him the drugs were his pushers. “These pharmacy people that are doing this and these doctors that are doing this…they don’t give a dag gum about people; it’s just the almighty dollar, that’s all it is,” she said.

CNN investigated how easy it is to purchase medication online without a prescription. Carmen Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, says that prescription drugs are the new crack and heroin, and that the Internet sites that sell them are the new drug dealers.

She told CNN, “You can order virtually any drug in the world by simply clicking a mouse and going to various websites that exist out there.” To prove it, a CNN investigator visited a site that advertises a variety of prescription drugs for sale. The site sent an email that said “all orders made are still subjected to Doctor’s evaluation.”

However, the investigator purchased Prozac and the anti-depressant Elavil, and the drugs arrived at the reporter’s front door within three days. Both prescription bottles had a doctor’s name and pharmacy on the label, but the reporter had never heard of the doctor and hadn’t talked to one on the phone or visited one.

Catizone says the purchases made to CNN were illegal, but that pharmacy laws are subject to individual state control. Although it’s illegal to obtain prescription medications without a prescription in every state, individual pharmacy boards in all states have virtually no legislative power, budget, or resources to shut down the growing number of sites selling drugs.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacies has tried to lobby Congress, asking for federal insight or prosecution to tackle the problem. But Catizone says their response is along the lines of, “Show us the dead bodies.” “…If that was me or my family, that’s a pretty sad statement for our legislators to give,” she said.

According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, some unscrupulous doctors are paid to have their names used on the prescriptions, even though the doctors never see the patients or even review the orders.

A Washington State woman who tried to commit suicide with internet-purchased drugs showed CNN her prescription of Soma, which was delivered to her by a pharmacy in American Forks, Utah. She said she never had contact with the doctor or the pharmacy.

The prescribing doctor, Dr. Kareem Tannous, lives in a $4-million estate on Long Island and runs three health clinics. When confronted about the prescriptions, Tannous hurried to his car and drove off without answering any questions.

When CNN visited Roots Pharmacy in American Forks, workers refused to answer questions and wouldn’t even open the door to provide the name of the owner. With CNN cameras rolling, one worker emptied a large plastic trash bag filled with empty wholesale prescription drug bottles. Most of them were labeled Carisoprodol, the generic name of Soma.

“They need to be stopped,” said the Washington State woman. “It just boggles my mind that it’s so simple.”

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