Prescription Drug Addiction Made Easy By Sham Online Consultations

Prescription Drug Addiction Made Easy By Sham Online Consultations

Federal law prohibits consumers from buying controlled prescription drugs without a valid prescription from a licensed physician. But a new study shows that hundreds of online drug stores are skirting the laws by offering sham consultations with 'cyber doctors' who are contributing hugely to the epidemic of prescription drug addiction in this country.

A report titled "You've Got Drugs!", from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), details how hundreds of Internet pharmacies have customers complete online questionnaires, or participate in virtual meetings with doctors employed by the sites, to try to get around the law.

Even worse, the study found that 85 percent of the nearly 400 web sites selling prescription drugs don't even bother with doctors' prescriptions - even bogus ones. Forty-two percent of them say no prescription is required, 45 percent offer 'online consultations', and 13 percent don't mention prescriptions at all. The practice is paving a super-highway to prescription drug addiction for thousands of Americans of all ages - even children can order up narcotics, speed or potent psychiatric drugs.

These Internet consultations are purely symbolic, and offer no protection to the consumer. "They're sham consultations," said CASA Chairman and President Joseph A. Califano, Jr. "They ask you a few medical questions and then say you need this drug."

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), prescriptions written by these 'cyber doctors' are not legitimate under the law. At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last month looking into the problem of the Internet and prescription drug addiction, DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph Rannazzisi said most illegal pharmacies are run by people with no medical or pharmaceutical training, but who find doctors willing to approve prescriptions in exchange for $10 to $25. Some of these physicians authorize hundreds of online prescriptions a day, representing untold numbers of people suffering from prescription drug addiction.

But Rannazzisi told the House that the proliferation of rogue Internet pharmacies has created new legal challenges, because of the complex involvement of web site operators, medical practitioners and pharmacists in these online consultations.

"This process is designed to elicit what drug the customer wants and what the method of payment will be," Rannazzisi said, "rather than diagnosing a health problem and establishing a sound course of medical treatment."

Prescription drug addiction has surpassed traditional illicit street drugs in its viral spread throughout all sectors of the population. The DEA official described the Internet as the perfect medium for drug trafficking organizations. "It connects individuals from anywhere in the globe, at any time," he said. "It provides anonymity, and can be deployed from almost anywhere with very little formal training."

Part of the the CASA study involved searching for typical prescription drug terms in Internet search engines, where hundreds of unlicensed pharmacies advertise. CASA's Califano, an outspoken proponent of action to combat the spread of prescription drug addiction, said it should be illegal for search engines to list pharmacies that have not been certified.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. In an effort to control prescription drug addiction and widespread threat to health, at least 8 states already require regulation of online prescription drug sales, and other states are considering similar legislation.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill this past April prohibiting online distribution, dispensing and delivery of controlled substances without a prescription from a doctor who has personally seen the patient. Now awaiting House approval, the bill also requires online pharmacies to be federally certified.

Although the bill should go a long way towards reducing the contribution of online drug stores to prescription drug addiction, the first vital step towards recovery for those trapped by prescription drug addiction is a medical drug detox.

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