Source: Sun Sentinel
Date: October 22 2003

DEA raids Davie pharmacy in continuing
probe of Internet prescriptions

Assaociated Press

DAVIE -- Federal agents raided a third pharmacy Wednesday as part of an investigation into an Internet-based network distributing diet drugs, sleep aids and other prescriptions based on online customer questionnaires.

The seizure of boxes full of colorful capsules at Rx Network of South Florida followed a hearing Tuesday on licenses stripped from another pharmacy and its wholesale supplier in the same suburban office complex.

The Drug Enforcement Administration claims all three companies violate federal licensing rules by filling orders for people who answer questionnaires and order prescriptions over the Internet without seeing the authorizing physician.

Pharmacy attorneys say federal law and regulations and laws in most states do not go as far as a DEA policy saying doctors must perform physical examinations before prescribing controlled drugs.

``None of that exists in these types of Internet pharmacy schemes,'' said DEA spokesman Joe Kilmer.

The DEA suspended Rx Network's license six months after the state put the company on probation and fined it $48,000 for negligently dispensing excessive drugs 24 times. The state targeted the same Internet-driven operations, but an administrative judge ruled the civil allegations were unproven.

``They have valid prescriptions,'' said Rx Network attorney Sean Ellsworth, who was called to the office when the DEA arrived. ``When Rx Network receives a prescription and there's any question about the legitimacy of a prescription, a phone call is made to that doctor.''

DEA Drug Operations Chief Betsy Willis said Tuesday that doctors are obligated to make sure they are prescribing drugs for valid medical reasons.

``If a pharmacist fills a prescription knowing that it is based solely upon a two-minute telephone consultation or an online questionnaire, the pharmacist is also violating the law,'' she said.

Rogene Waite, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington, said there is no way to gauge the scope of the problem nationally. ``It's definitely a growing problem. Everyone you talk to, including you and me, is getting the spam and such on the Internet, so it's a problem that we recognize,'' she said.

Spam for the male impotency drug Viagra, which the DEA lists as a non-controlled drug, began popping up in the mid 1990s. Web pharmacies later branched into controlled substances, such as diet and weight-loss drugs.

``There are many doctors involved in schemes like this that are under investigation,'' Kilmer said.

The three Davie companies do not have Web sites offering prescription drugs. Lifeline Pharmacy and C&H Wholesale, the neighboring companies whose licenses were suspended Oct. 10, said they received the prescriptions from EVA Global, a Fort Lauderdale company that bills for orders through more than 50 Web sites offering online prescriptions. Lifeline and C&H are jointly owned. Rx Network has different owners, as does EVA. Lifeline attorney Richard Hersch said the proximity of the four companies is nothing more than a ``geographic coincidence.''

Lifeline and C&H were served with a federal search warrant as part of a criminal investigation in August.

EVA attorney Andrew Cotzin said, ``In light of the investigation it's not appropriate for me to comment at this time.''

A DEA agent who listed her name as Brittany, Danielle and Daniel on different online orders received diet drugs by mail from Lifeline in July. In Brittany's case, her first order was rejected by a Web site that returned her to the height-weight data field. The order went through when she chopped 5 inches off her height.

Rx Network has dispensed more than 19 million doses of drugs since it received its license in February 2001, the DEA said. Lifeline sold 2.9 million doses of prescription drugs, mostly for weight loss and sleep aids, to online customers in less than three months this year. Email story

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