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Internet Pharmacies — The New Drug Dealer on the Corner
For most of us, even our spam filters cannot stop all of the email we get advertising “You can now order prescription medication on the internet without a prescription.” Even a simple web search will reveal literally hundreds of sites that advertise prescription drugs—often without a prescription. The Treatment Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based not-for-profit organization, found 300 different internet pharmacies offering Oxycontin and Vicodin—without a prescription.
The prices advertised by these sites are normally higher than you would pay at your local pharmacy. Of course, if your doctor has declined to authorize a refill of OxyContin and you are addicted, then the price is not a consideration—you have to feed your habit.
There are no controls stopping the sale of these drugs to children. According to a February report by the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, new abusers of prescription drugs have caught up with new users of marijuana. Many teens and adults are increasingly turning away from illicit drugs and abusing prescription drugs, in large part because they are widely viewed as safer to use and easier to obtain.
Another group that resorts to these internet pharmacies are people who have seen ads on television for a drug and, not being able to get a doctor to prescribe it, have decided to self-medicate and order it without a prescription.
Apparently, some internet pharmacies are going even more high-tech and offering refills through text messages sent to their cell phones. If the customer texts acceptance, then the refill is charged to the cell phone as a custom ring tone.
In May of 2007, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) located at Columbia University published a white paper titled, “You’ve Got Drugs!” IV: Prescription Drug Pushers on the Internet” which found a total of 581 Web sites advertising or selling controlled prescription drugs in 2007 compared to 342 sites in 2006.
“The easy availability of addictive opioids, depressants and stimulants has, for many children, made the Internet a greater threat than the illegal street drug dealer,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s chair and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “The Internet has become a pharmaceutical candy store stocked with addictive drugs, available at the click of a mouse to any kid with a credit card number.”
Other findings in the white paper include:
- 84 percent of sites selling these drugs did not require a prescription.
- Of the 16 percent that claimed to require a prescription, most (57 percent) simply ask that it be faxed, allowing a customer to forge it or use the same prescription many times to load up on these drugs.
- Over the past four years, the number of sites selling controlled prescription drugs has increased steadily from 154 in 2004 and 2005 to 187 in 2007.
- Benzodiazepines (Xanax and Valium) continue to be the most frequently offered controlled prescription drug, sold on 79 percent of the sites; followed by opioids (Vicodin and OxyContin) on 64 percent of the sites.
Unfortunately, many criminals have decided that there is not enough money in selling medications without prescriptions. These criminals have determined that people seeking to purchase drugs without a prescription can be sold counterfeit drugs. These are drugs that may include some of the ingredients of the real drugs but are created in unsanitary third-world locations by unskilled workers.
Mark Anthony Kolowich recently pled guilty to conspiring to sell counterfeit medications, commit mail fraud, import unapproved drugs, smuggle medications into the United States and conspiracy to launder money. Kolwich owned World Express RX, one of the largest internet pharmacies.
Consumers looking to obtain drugs either less expensively or without bothering to obtain a prescription could just go online and order prescription drugs without having a prior prescription. While the website charged each customer a $35 fee for a doctor to review a medical history form and issue a prescription, there was no doctor and no prescription.
However, this was not just a case of getting drugs without a prescription. The drugs received by the consumer were supposedly “generic” versions but were actually, in many cases, counterfeit drugs produced in crude, non-sterile rooms.
Another indictment was of Jared Wheat and Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Wheat and his conspirators were selling some legitimate prescription drugs but were starting to produce these drugs in non-sterile locations in Central America, packaging them to look like the real drugs and selling them at lower prices to unwitting consumers.
There is new legislation being introduced that will seek to set higher penalties for these internet pharmacies selling drugs without a prescription. However, since many of the internet pharmacies obtain their drugs legally, why not go to the drug companies that make these drugs and require them to disclose to whom they sell?
If this was done, most of these internet pharmacies might not be in business to feed addictions. Wouldn’t it be better to have a medical detox like Novus where the addicts can actually start on the path to handle their problem—not feed it?
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