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Widow: My husband died from online drugs

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN reporter gets drugs online without ever seeing a doctor as part of investigation
  • Widow describes losing her husband to overdose of drugs bought online
  • Expert says online pharmaceutical industry needs better regulation
  • Woman tells CNN she tried to commit suicide after falling into deep depression
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By Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit
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WICHITA, Kansas (CNN) -- She found her husband on their bed in a pool of his own vomit, dead from an accidental overdose of drugs he received from an online pharmacy.


These pills were sent to CNN's Drew Griffin, even though he was never seen by a doctor.

Every night before her husband went to bed, he would open a prescription bottle of the muscle relaxant Soma and swallow the eight or nine pills it took for him to fall asleep, said the woman. She spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because she wants to protect her husband's identity and not embarrass his family.

The drugs arrived at their doorstep every week. She thought they were being prescribed by a treating physician. Her husband had been in a car accident and suffered back pain, and Soma was the one drug that could relieve the aches.

She was wrong. The drugs were purchased online without a doctor's visit. She says that her husband had become an addict -- and that the Internet sites that sold him the drugs were his pushers.

"Absolutely," she said. "That's exactly what they are."

"These pharmacy people that are doing this and these doctors that are doing this, they don't give a dadgummit about people. It's just the almighty dollar; that's all it is."

Rusty Payne, a spokesman with the Drug Enforcement Administration, agreed.

The abuse of pharmaceuticals "is one of the biggest drug problems we are dealing with," he said.

"The Internet is the biggest culprit," Payne said.

About $39 million in cash, bank accounts, property and computers were seized in 2007 as a result of Internet drug investigations, he said. In 2004, the figure was $11.9 million.

The DEA has formed an initiative with Google, Yahoo! and AOL to warn people about buying drugs online. Between 2005 and 2007, Payne said the official warning popped up nearly 80 million times.

A CNN investigation shows just how easy it is to purchase prescription drugs online without a legitimate prescription, revealing a growing new battle in the war on drug abuse. Video Watch why 'I wanted to end it' »

To prove it, a CNN investigative reporter went to, which advertises a long list of prescription drugs for sale. The site sent back an e-mail saying "all orders made are still subjected to Doctor's evaluation."

The reporter placed two orders for anti-depressants with the site: one for Prozac, the other for Elavil. A health survey on the site was already filled in. The reporter submitted a credit card and a shipping address.

Within 24 hours, the Prozac had arrived at the reporter's front door. The Elavil arrived two days later. Both prescription bottles had a doctor's name and pharmacy on the label. Video Watch woman describe online drug 'Christmas' sales »

The reporter had neither seen a doctor nor talked to a doctor on the phone. In fact, he hadn't even heard of the doctor listed on the bottle.

Carmen Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which works to implement and enforce uniform pharmaceutical standards, said prescription drugs are the new crack and heroin, and Internet sites that sell them are the new drug dealers.

Except narcotics, Catizone said, "you can order virtually any drug in the world by simply clicking a mouse and going to various Web sites that exist out there."

His group blames unscrupulous doctors for writing prescriptions without ever seeing the patients or even reviewing their medical records. It has created a list of nearly 80 sites selling online drugs that it recommends people not use.

It is illegal in every state for doctors to prescribe medicines to patients whom they do not know across state lines. It is also illegal in most states for pharmacies to ship prescriptions to where they have no license to operate.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has tried to lobby Congress, asking for some federal oversight or federal prosecution to stem the tide of illegal Internet pharmacies.

But Catizone says legislators gave the board a chilly response: "'Show us the dead bodies,' and if that was me or my family, that's a pretty sad statement for our legislators to give."

It is unknown just how many people have died from overdoses related to these online drug sales.

It is also unknown how many people have tried to commit suicide with drugs bought online, as Nancy Fitzpatrick of Washington state tried to do earlier this year.

She showed CNN her prescription for Soma. The drugs were delivered by a pharmacy in American Fork, Utah, and prescribed by a doctor in Long Island, New York.

"I wanted to end it, I wanted to die," "Fitzpatrick said, describing how she swallowed about 130 pills after she fell into a deep depression.

Fitzpatrick, the sister of CNN investigative producer David Fitzpatrick, says she had no contact with the doctor or the pharmacy. Read about a sister found, an abuse uncovered

The doctor, Kareem Tannous, lives in a $4-million estate on Long Island and runs three health clinics.

When confronted about the prescriptions in front of his Valley Stream, New York, clinic, Tannous hustled to his car and drove off without answering any questions.

Workers inside Roots Pharmacy in American Fork, Utah, also refused to answer questions about why Fitzpatrick's prescriptions from Tannous were filled. The office in the small foothill town has a bolted security door and closed-circuit security cameras. The workers inside refused to even open the door or provide the name of the owner.

In the reception area on the first floor, dozens of boxes of Federal Express envelopes were waiting to be filled. While CNN cameras rolled, one of the workers emptied a large clear plastic trash bag filled with empty wholesale prescription drug bottles.

Most of the containers were labeled Carisoprodol, the generic name of the muscle relaxant Soma.

"They need to be stopped," Fitzpatrick said of the doctors and pharmacies involved. "It just boggles my mind that it's so simple."

CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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