July 14th, 2009
11:44 AM ET

Internet is the new street corner drug dealer

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/HEALTH/05/21/online.drugs/art.mail.order.drugs.03.cnn.jpg caption= "These pills were sent to CNN's Drew Griffin, even though he was never seen by a doctor."]

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."

Editor's note: Read a report on this investigation at CNN.com/health, and check out CNN producer David Fitzpatrick's blog on how online drugs affected his family.

soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Keith Wachter

    I am ashamed to see what we have become. How about some personal accountability. How some about honesty. We are talking about addicts. Why would you blame the credit card companies or the pharmacy. How about blaming the addict. There are lots of people who buy their precriptions online that are not addicts. They use the service without breaking the law. If we are to blame anyone then how about the family and friends that turn their backs on the addict because they don't want to be involved. Addicts make the best liars, they will go to any lengths possible to get their drugs. Don't call them victims call them addicts. I should know because I am one. I have been clean for 24 months and I have never met an addict that was a "victim". Kids need to be protected but as an adult you have no one to blame but yourself. We are always looking for an easy way to feel better and when we get addicted we look for someone to blame when we should really just look in the mirror.

    May 26, 2008 at 3:35 pm |
  2. wayne

    There are some important things that your program should point out.
    The odds are not great that you are going to get anything "great".
    Viagra, antidepressants-ok. But I think you should point out two important facts_
    #1 If you are trying to get a narcotic pain releiver-the prices are ridiculous. (I am sure some will say they will pay anything-but not many)
    #2 IF you do find a pharmacy, online, that has the most sought after type narcotics-chances are you are going to get ripped off and who are you going to go to -the Better Business Bureau?
    There are pain clinics in most cities and you are better off going there.
    In fact, a casual friend, who abuses pain medicine, once a month gets what he needs-legally.

    May 26, 2008 at 3:30 pm |
  3. Ginger

    My husband gets pain drugs from on line pharmacies with NO perscription. What can I do to help put a stop to these drug pushers?
    Any one I can call, write, etc?

    May 25, 2008 at 8:55 pm |
  4. Sam

    Please do a report of the number of people who die from tylenol toxicity. Some of the most dangerous drugs are over the counter at Walgreens.

    No drug is totally safe, whether you buy it on the internet or the local drug store.

    May 25, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  5. Wendy

    just wondering if anyone has had a chance to approve my blog from last night's prescription drug topic? it still says "awaiting moderation" on my computer... were there no more blogs after mine? i just think that there are so many that would benefit from the info I shared! Thank you so much for your time & consideration!

    May 25, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  6. Joe Gilmore

    Stop the insanity!

    I watch CNN a lot and this prescription drug over the internet push by CNN is killing me. People using the internet to abuse drugs being victims? Are you kidding me? This is the ill thought out type of reasoning that is behind the degradation of family values today. It’s like going after the retailer that sells beer to a minor who presents a fake ID. Yes, that happens. Is the problem the retailer or THE MINOR trying to get the beer? Who are these drug addict “victims” of the internet drug ordering process? Who will suffer from the shutting down of this type of service? Not the “victim” addicts! They’ll just find another source/substance…they’re addicts (or did you miss that). I do not need the government “protecting” me from myself. It seems like everyone today is a victim, it’s easier than facing your responsibility for your actions or the actions of a loved one. If you have ever watched a medical school class go through their 4 years, you’d be shocked. The one’s that I observed first hand graduated about 3 in each class that I would value their opinion over my own. Most were just average students, some were in the wrong profession and will kill some people. One of the things that I observed was medical students using the phrase, “ ‘C’ =MD”, relating to their grades. What was your doctor’s GPA in medical school? Did he/she even go to class or did he/she just read the notes that the designated note taker for the class wrote (attendance IS optional)? They may see themselves as Gods and some may feed that by believing them. They are nothing more than service providers, just like your computer guy. You and you alone are responsible for all decisions you. If you go to the drug store and the pharmacist gives you the wrong medication and you take it without looking it up, you have no one to blame but yourself. Each and every drug is marked and identifiable. You were just too lazy to look. Google your medication and you will also find the dosing recommendations along with pictures and descriptions. If the recommendation written on the bottle is different, call another doctor and get a second opinion BEFORE you take it!

    May 24, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  7. Anne Marie

    Drew, this is old news, but thanx for making it new again. Skyrocketing Rx drugs in the US. Bad healh care. No health care. The self medicating. Those wanting to save a buck. VS the schemers making a quick buck. Hmmm. It's complicated. Elvis never needed the internet did he?

    May 24, 2008 at 2:15 pm |
  8. Steve

    The world has become a very dangerous place.

    May 24, 2008 at 11:47 am |
  9. Nancy

    Give me a break. Do you know how many thousands are killed every year by PROPERLY PRESCRIBED drugs.?The internet is not the problem. In fact there are many in chronic pain who do not have insurance or the ability to go to a doctor and their own means of a semi-normal life is to use online pharmacies. We always look to blame someone else in this society, many times hurting unsuscptecting individuals. Online pharmacies are NOT the problem.

    May 24, 2008 at 7:21 am |
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