Things have definitely changed over the years. In the past, when a prescription ran out you went to your doctor for a refill. When he thought it was appropriate, he took you off the drugs. Nowadays, with so many prescriptions being written for opiate painkillers – which are highly addictive – when the doc says no, the patient is in trouble. Unfortunately, instead of heading for drug rehab, he goes in search of other sources for the drug.
Many resort to “doctor shopping” – going from one doc to another, sometimes faking symptoms – to get the drugs. And now we have the Internet. You don’t need a doctor, you just fill out a little online questionnaire and you’ve got your drugs. There are hundreds of these Internet sites, called “rogue pharmacies,” and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported that a mere 34 of them dispensed nearly 100 million dosages of hydrocodone drugs last year – sufficient to give over 400,000 patients a one-month supply.
The DEA says about 95% of the drugs sold by “rogue pharmacies” are controlled substances. Compare this to the 11% dispensed by legitimate pharmacies and it is clear that prescription drug abuse is a problem. It is also clear that someone is going to have to do something about the number of drug rehab facilities available if we’re going to handle it.
Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy assistant director of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and described how these doctors and pharmacies operate.
The websites find doctors who are retired or whose debt exceeds their ability to pay. If the doctor is seeking extra income, he can sometimes be persuaded to write prescriptions after looking over customers’ online questionnaires. The doctor is then paid for each prescription he writes. Then, the site approaches smaller pharmacies and persuades them to fill and ship the prescription to the customer. For a pharmacy that is struggling financially, the additional fee received on top of the cost of the medication can be enough to help make ends meet. These pharmacies keep the drug addiction alive, and the addict out of drug rehab.
Typically, legitimate pharmacies require a doctor-patient relationship in order to fill the prescription. Although Congress is looking at implementing legislation that would clarify laws regarding Internet pharmacy sales, rogue pharmacies are currently able to operate within the law.
Experts claim these sites are highly dangerous because they can, and do, fuel and maintain drug addiction problems. They are also concerned with violation of safety standards when drugs come from out of the country, but that may or may not be as big a problem as the potential for abuse.