In an effort to determine how easily narcotics can be purchased online, The Sun authorized me to do exactly what a growing number of drug dealers in Clark County do on a regular basis - buy prescription drugs online that would be delivered right to my door.
All it took was a simple Internet search to find a list of cyberpharmacies offering pain medication. Twenty-four hours after speaking on the phone with the pharmacy's "doctor," 90 Lortabs - a potent prescription painkiller that is commonly trafficked illegally in Clark County - were delivered to my home in a nondescript FedEx package.
Then, with Capt. Arlen Horton of the Clark County Sheriff's Department looking on, I cut open the wrapping, pulled out the translucent plastic cylinder filled with pale blue oblong tablets, opened the childproof seal probably the most difficult part of the entire exercise) and dumped the container's contents into the toilet. In seconds, 90 tablets, which could have been sold illegally on the street for $900, were sucked into a whirlpool and, in an instant, disappeared.
Making The Buy
Everyone I had spoken with prior to my investigation - law enforcement officials, prosecutors, even a former drug trafficker - told me that buying drugs on the Internet was an easy matter. I was eager to find out how easy. If I could find a Web site willing to ship me Lortabs or Xanax or Oxycontin without a prior prescription, without even seeing a medical doctor in person, clearly anybody else could do the same thing.
A Google.com search using the words "prescription drugs for sale online" resulted in more than 3.3 million Web sites. "Online pharmacy" gave me more than 21 million sites. I entered the words, "buy Lortabs online" - 951 hits. That was a more manageable number. Time to get to work.
I spent more than one hour surfing the Web, searching for online pharmacies promising to deliver medication to my door that would cure virtually any health problem from chronic pain and anxiety to sexual impotence and depression. There were weight loss pills. Muscle relaxers. Skin care medications. Antibiotics. Sleep aids. Practically any prescription medication could be purchased online with arguably little or no oversight.
Some Web sites charged a monthly membership fee. Most appeared to require a telephone consultation with a "doctor," who would make the final determination whether to write the prescription for the medication. The cost of this initial consultation seemed to average about $120, added to the cost of the medicine.
I selected one of a plethora of Internet pharmacies advertising Lortabs for no particular reason other than it offered the product I wanted at a relatively reasonable cost. The Sun has chosen not to identify the Web site used in this investigation.) It informed me that after filling out a brief personal medical history, the company would schedule a telephone consultation. After the consultation, I expected to be offered a 30-day supply of Lortabs 90 pills) for $74 , plus shipping.
Within a few hours, I received an e-mail notifying me that I had been scheduled for a "consultation" between noon and 1 p.m. two days later. At about 11:45 a.m., the phone rang.
"This is Manuel, physician's assistant, calling regarding your consultation," he said with a thick foreign accent. "Yes, I was expecting you," I replied. "What is your date of birth?" he asked. I responded. "And what medication are you requesting from us?"
No beating around the bush. Without asking me any questions about my symptoms or medical history, without asking me about my pain, without any questions that one would expect a physician to ask, Manuel asked me what drug I wanted. I told him I would like a supply of Lortabs. Strong ones. The strongest ones they make.
"Did you fax us your medical records?" he asked. This question caught me off guard. I knew when I began my investigation that some online pharmacies - perhaps most - required clients to submit records, copies of MRIs or something to document medical problems, but I had not read anything that required me to do that.
"I did everything that the Web site told me I had to do," I insisted.
"It also requested you to fax us your medical records, sir," he replied. There were several voices audible in the background as he spoke. It sounded like children playing. I began wondering whether my plot would begin to unravel without a legitimate set of medical records documenting a need for heavy-duty painkillers.
Then, in an instant, it hit me! I used to see a chiropractor, although it had been at least two years since my most recent visit. I assured him that I would contact my chiropractor to have records faxed.
Twenty minutes later, I received an e-mail telling me that my request for Lortabs was approved and that they would be sent by overnight express. About 24 hours later, the FedEx shipment arrived at my home.
The package's label did not identify the shipper. The return address was a discreet street address in Tampa, Fla. Tampa, according to several law enforcement officers, is where the majority of drug shipments to Clark County originate.
The pill container appeared as any prescription medicine bottle I had ever seen. It was an amber-tinted translucent bottle with a label identifying the drug, the strength and the doctor who prescribed it - "Dr. MC Sherry Denis," with whom I had neither spoken nor heard of prior to my drug shipment.
I was instructed to take one tablet by mouth three times a day. It contained the warning labels that are customary with heavy narcotics. Take with food. May cause drowsiness. Use care when operating a car or dangerous machinery.
Had I been so inclined, I could have used or abused) the drugs, or trafficked them for as much as $10 each. Presumably, I could have done the same thing at other online pharmacies, receiving multiple nondescript packages at my home, each one containing a controlled substance that I could turn around and sell.
In 25 days I would be authorized to receive a refill, and 25 days later I could buy yet another shipment of Lortabs, all without personally seeing a physician.
We chose to take the experiment no further. We had proven our point. Our questions concerning how easy it was to buy Lortabs online was answered. We found that with nothing more than a computer and a two-year-old medical record from a chiropractor we were able to obtain commonly trafficked narcotics online. Knowing what we could have done with them, were we so inclined, was enough of a wake-up call for us.
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.