Dispensing drugs on the Internet Health: Steroids, marijuana seeds, Valium and Viagra are all available on the World Wide Web, much to the dismay of the legal and medical communities.

August 30, 1998|By Dawn Fallik | Dawn Fallik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

RioRunner," as he calls himself, has steroids to sell. The drugs, used by athletes to bulk up muscle and lose fat, are illegal in the United States, but "Rio" is not huddled on a street corner or distributing coded notes in a gym.

Instead, the dealer posted on the "Elite Fitness" Web site under the not-so-subtle title "Looking for a Steroid Source?"

"High quality, pharmaceutical steroids from Brazil - Deca, Sustanon, Test Cyp., Anadrol-50, Proviron, HCG, Clomid, Nolvadex," read a RioRunner message posted Aug. 12. "Send message to [Web address] for prices and more info."

The ad is just one of 580 messages on the anabolic steroid bulletin board listed on the Elite Fitness Internet page. Within 24 hours, three replies are posted publicly; there is no way to know how many people e-mailed the dealer privately.

"Can I get cycle and try it out, then pay you afterwards?? I promise I'll pay! Really I will! Please? Geez," responded "Pokey."

It's not just steroids that the World Wide Web has to offer. Fertility drugs, marijuana seeds, Viagra and Valium are all just a click and a credit card away. Thousands of drug Web sites have popped up on the Internet, and more appear every day.

The Web has become a virtual drug superstore, overwhelming drug agents and troubling the medical community as medicines are bought without appropriate professional guidance.

"It's hard to wrap your arms around the problem because it's something we're just becoming aware of," said Susan Winckler, director of policy and legislation for the American Pharmaceutical Association in Washington.

Although some of the trade involves people buying hard-core illegal drugs such as heroin, most of it involves people illegally buying anabolic steroids or prescription drugs from countries that sell those drugs over the counter, said Gene Weinschenk, director of the Customs Cybersmuggling Center in Sterling, Va.

Valium, for example, requires a prescription in the United States but is sold over the counter in Mexico. It is illegal to buy a prescription drug without a prescription.

Prescriptions themselves can also be bought online. At the "Pill Box Pharmacy," filling out a simple online questionnaire and paying $85 could get you a cyber-prescription and an order of Viagra. Just click to promise that you're an adult and that you'll answer all the questions truthfully, including the one that inquires whether you're a male.

Law-enforcement agencies say they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of web pages.

"The U.S. laws haven't really been updated to address the Internet issue," said Terry Tarham, special agent and spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency in Arlington, Va. "We're not really in a position to handle the onslaught of access people have out there to abuse."

Authorities say it's hard to find and prosecute cases because Internet users constantly change their online names. Moreover, Internet service providers don't always keep information on the people who put up the sites, which can easily be taken down and reposted under another name.

Besides, "having the Web site is legal," said Weinschenk. "Sending illegal drug material through the mail is not."

While it's hard to prosecute the overseas sellers, Weinschenk said, U.S. buyers can be prosecuted for smuggling illegal drugs into the country. U.S. Customs and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency have several investigations under way, but neither has closed a case yet. Maryland State Police have set up a computer-crime unit, but its spokesman, Det. Sgt. Barry Leese, said that the unit deals mainly with fraud and child exploitation and that he was unaware of any Internet drug investigations.

Some state medical agencies are starting to intervene, too. The Wisconsin Medical Board recently stopped a Milwaukee doctor who was advertising Viagra prescriptions on the Internet.

"The doctor was advertising that people could call his office and answer a few questions on the phone and, if the answers were right, get the prescription that way, without having seen a doctor," said Arthur Thexton, prosecuting attorney for the Wisconsin State Department of Regulation and Licensing. He said the Internet advertisement was not illegal but the board did not feel it was good medical practice to prescribe a new drug without a visit to the doctor.

"I believe he wrote several hundred prescriptions before we stopped him," Thexton said.

Michael Compton, the executive director of the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance, said the board was looking into several cases concerning doctors and the Internet, but could say nothing more because no cases are closed yet.

"Part of the problem is, we only have subpoena power in our state boundaries," Compton said. "And the difficulty is, if someone here is ordering online from someone in another state, they are in effect leaving the state electronically."

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