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Will Drug Detox Costs Be Part of Internet Pharmacists' Restitution?
Two Maryland pharmacists are on trial for selling nearly 10 million hydrocodone pills since 2004 to anyone with a credit card. If convicted, they could receive sentences of five years to life. By providing unlimited painkillers from their web site using bogus prescriptions, the two contributed to at least two opiate overdose deaths and inestimable dependencies and addictions. Thousands of their customers may need a medical drug detox program to get off the drugs safely.
In opening statements this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Smith told jurors in Baltimore’s federal court that the two licensed pharmacists were involved in “a monster” nationwide conspiracy to illegally sell hydrocodone to any customer with a valid credit card — even to known addicts. She said they “turned their backs on their professional responsibilities” and should have known their Internet drug sales were illegal.
Hydrocodone is a highly addictive opioid painkiller that has led thousands of people to seek medical drug detox as the first step in recovery from dependence and addiction. Assistance with withdrawal through drug detox greatly reduces the agonizing and sometimes dangerous effects of trying to quit “cold turkey”.
In recent decades, hundreds of people have died from complications surrounding hydrocodone use and abuse, and the number of injuries, deaths and, for survivors, drug detox programs for hydrocodone dependence continue to rise. Hydrocodone is best known as Vicodin, but is also available under many other trademarked names. No matter what the brand name, the drugs can cause dependence and addiction and medical drug detox is often required to begin to recover and live a normal life.
Smith said the Internet pharmacy customers were charged as much as $115 for a bogus online “medical consultation” before a sale went through. Shipping costs could run $25, while drug prices were many times higher than normal retail.
The pharmacists’ company, called Newcare Home Health Service, bought 4,600 doses of hydrocodone for resale in 2004, but by the following year their purchases totaled 4.2 million – nearly 50 times the national per pharmacy average of 84,332 units. The numbers kept increasing, Smith said, until the DEA raided Newcare’s 55,000-square-foot facility in October 2006 and arrested its owners, throwing more than 50 employees out of work.
The pharmacists were also charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, laundering money and tax violations. A third man was charged with conspiracy to defraud the IRS and is to be tried separately.
This kind of crime is no different, except in the details, from common street drug pushing, where prices are always inflated and anyone with the cash can score. And indeed, said prosecutor Smith, the two pharmacists “…were no different than pushers.”
And like street pushers, the two were oblivious to the deaths they caused and the lives they ruined. The costs to families in lost jobs, injuries, illness and drug detox programs for those lucky enough to get their lives back are significant. Let’s hope these Internet pharmacists are also ordered to pay restitution.
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