Editor's Note: Four Emmy nominees for Outstanding Investigative Reporting on a Regularly Scheduled Newscast were announced today. CNN's David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffith were nominated for their pieces on online prescription drug abuse.
Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit
Every night before he went to bed, he would open a prescription bottle of the muscle relaxant Soma and swallow the 8 or 9 pills his wife says would be the only way he could get to sleep. Only last summer the doses were increasing.
She thought the drugs, arriving at her doorstep every week were being prescribed by a treating physician. Her husband had been in a car accident, suffered from back pain, and Soma was the one drug that could relieve the aches.
She was wrong. Although she wants to protect her husband’s identity and hers so as not to embarrass her husband’s family, she is willing to tell the story of how he died.
She found him last August in bed in a pool of vomit. The cause of death, accidental overdose.
The widow says there is no doubt her husband was an addict. She also says the internet sites that sold him the drugs were his pushers.
"Absolutely” she told CNN. “That's exactly what they are."
"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."
Any drug in the world by clocking a mouse
A CNN investigation into just how easy it is to purchase prescription drugs, online, without a prescription reveals a growing and largely ignored new battle in the war on drug abuse.
Carmen Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy says prescription drugs are the new crack and heroin, and internet sites that sell them are the new drug dealers.
"You can order virtually any drug in the world by simply clicking a mouse and going to various websites that exist out there," Catizone told CNN.
To prove it, a CNN investigative reporter logged on to the internet site linepaharmacy.com, a site that advertises a long list of prescription drugs for sale. The site sent us an email saying "all orders made are still subjected to Doctor's evaluation."
The CNN reporter placed two orders with the site: one for Prozac, the other for the anti-depressant Elavil. A health survey on the site was already filled in. The reporter submitted a credit card and a shipping address.
Within 24 hours the Prozac had arrived at the reporter’s front door. The Elevil arrived two days later. Both prescription bottles had a doctor’s name and pharmacy on the label. The reporter had neither seen a doctor, talked to a doctor on the phone, nor had ever heard of the doctor.
Lawmakers: “Show us the dead bodies”
Catizone insists the purchases made to CNN were illegal. But he says pharmacy laws are subject to individual state control, and though illegal in every state, individual pharmacy boards in the fifty states have virtually no investigative power, budget or resources to shut down the growing number of sites selling drugs over the internet.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has tried to lobby congress, asking form some federal oversight or federal prosecution to stem the tide of the growing, illegal internet pharmacies. But Catizone says legislators gave the board a chilly response.
"Show us the dead bodies, and if that was me or my family that's a pretty sad statement for our legislators to give," Catizone says.
Network of pharmacies and doctors
The internet sites work with a network of small pharmacies inside and outside the U.S. According the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, 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.
Nancy Fitzpatrick, a Washington State woman who tried to commit suicide with internet purchased drugs showed CNN her prescription of Soma which was delivered by a pharmacy in American Forks, Utah and prescribed by a doctor in Long island, New York. Fitzpatrick, the sister of a CNN investigative producer, says she had no contact with the doctor or the pharmacy.
The doctor, Dr. Kareem Tannous, lives in a $4 million dollar estate on Long Island and runs three health clinics. When confronted about the prescription’s in front of his Valley Stream, NY clinic, Tannous hustled to his car and drove off without answering a single question.
Workers inside Roots Pharmacy in American Forks, Utah also refused to answer questions. The second story office in the small foothill town has a bolted security door, closed circuit security cameras. The workers inside refused to even open the door or provide the name of the owner.
In the reception area on the first floor, dozens of boxes of empty FedEx envelopes were waiting to be filled. And with CNN cameras rolling, one of the workers emptied a large clear plastic trash bag filled with empty wholesale prescription drug bottles. Most of the containers were labeled Carisoprodol, the generic name of the muscle relaxant Soma.
"They need to be stopped,” Fitzpatrick says. “It just boggles my mind that it's so simple."
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