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Feds crack down on online prescribing

The Buffalo News went on-line to see how easy it is to get opioid painkillers.

After a series of deaths associated with on-line doctors prescribing controlled substances through on-line pharmacies, a government crack down seems to have squashed the market in the United States.

Without a prescription, The News was unable to find an American pharmacy that would sell opioid painkillers on line.

The News was, however, able to find sites that offered on-line sales overseas, particularly from India.

OxyContin, Lortab, and fentanyl will be in the mail, shipped from India, where prescriptions aren't required, according to a customer service representative from a website with a Canadian mailing address, but which linked to an office in India.

"No prescription?" The News asked.

"Your order is in India, and in India, we don't need prescription," the representative replied.

And how much are these drugs?

Thirty 10 mg. hydrocodone pills would cost $230 plus $30 shipping, the website says. That's a little pricey considering hydrocodone -- the generic component of Lortab -- sells for about 83 cents each at U.S. drugstores.

"Will you take insurance?" The News asked.

"No, only VISA," the customer rep replied. "We have trouble with MasterCard."

It sounded shaky.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, working with the U.S. Congress, clamped down on on-line prescribing of narcotics in the United States with the 2009 Ryan Haight Act. The law was named for Ryan Haight of California, who was 18 when he died in 2001 from an overdose of drugs bought online.

The Ryan Haight Act has pretty much eliminated the on-line business in the United States, said Supervisory Special Agent Gary Boggs with the DEA.

The act doesn't stop rogue pharmacies working overseas, Boggs said, but he noted that it's already illegal in the United States to buy those drugs from foreign countries.

The DEA hasn't found a large number of foreign sites selling controlled substances, but those that do offer them, often are scams, Boggs said.

"Most are scams, or you get something different than what you order," he said. "They offer to sell you this or that, and you might get Viagra, or you might not get anything."

-- By Susan Schulman

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