July 14th, 2009
11:40 AM ET

Internet drug sales crackdown

[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.

David Fitzpatrick
Special Investigations Unit Producer

If there was any doubt at all that the sale of prescription drugs over the internet, without a doctor’s legitimate authorization, is very big business, what happened in Kansas over the last couple of days should dispel those notions in a heartbeat.

The Kansas Attorney General’s office arrested and jailed three people, a pharmacist and the co-owners of a small pharmacy in the northwestern part of the state, on multiple felony and misdemeanor counts. Hogan’s Pharmacy is in a tiny town called Lyons. And according to documents filed in court, this small storefront operation, in a town of no more than 3,000 people, handled nearly $1.9 million in wire transfers in 2007 alone.

CNN Correspondent Drew Griffin and I went to Lyons a few months ago as part of an AC 360 investigation into internet prescription abuse. We had met and interviewed a young widow only the day before. Her husband had ordered the muscle-relaxant drug Soma over the internet—time and time again. Many of the pills came from Hogan’s Pharmacy and came without any legitimate order from a physician. One day last year, she went to their bedroom and found her husband unresponsive. He had died of an overdose of Soma.

There’s a good reason why doctors limit doses of Soma. Research by the Food and Drug Administration shows that it is one of those class of drugs which can be easily abused. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there’s now some consideration being given to classifying Soma as a “controlled substance,” putting it in the same category of dangerous drugs such as Xanax and Hydrocodone..

I was sitting in my New York City office when that widow telephoned me to express her thanks to the Kansas authorities and to CNN for the investigative work. She told me she would likely testify in any coming trials and was looking forward to doing so.

Keeping them honest, we’ll continue to investigate prescription drug sales over the Internet.

Attorney General Steve Six announced charges today against Hogan’s Pharmacy owners Jolane and Mark Poindexter for their part in an Internet pharmacy scheme. The pharmacist in charge, Rick Kloxin, was charged earlier this week.

May 22nd, 2008
10:17 AM ET

A Sister Found; An Abuse Uncovered

Editor's Note: David Fitzpatrick was part of a CNN investigation into just how easy it is to purchase prescription drugs online without a prescription. Read a report on this investigation at CNN.com/health. He share's his personal experience here:

Editor's note: [cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/22/art.nancy.fitzpatrick.jpg caption="Nancy Fitzpatrick"]

David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

For more than 16 years, I had been out of touch with my sister, Nancy. One day in 1992, she simply disappeared from her California home. She left her two children, her husband, who then was in the early stages of Multiple Sclerosis, and all of her friends and family. There was no note, no phone call, nothing.

The last physical record I had of her movements was a rental car credit bill, charged to one of my cards from Las Vegas, Nevada. She vanished without a trace. Working for CBS News at the time, I tried to track her down through police, county sheriff’s offices, state authorities in California and Nevada but without success. As the months and then years went by, I kept in touch with her children, then in their early 20s. As far as I could tell, she made no effort to contact them.

I became convinced that Nancy, two years younger than I, was dead. She was either the victim of a random criminal act or had died of natural causes.

In early March of this year, the phone rang at our home outside of New York City. I wasn’t there. I was in Washington, D.C. on assignment. But it was a phone call that would change my life.