It's a growing problem in Alabama--prescription drug abuse. And it's probably because the drugs are getting easier to find. With the advent of the Internet, they're virtually everywhere. And, you no longer need a prescription.
Illegal web sites are popping up all over the country, selling drugs to people who don't have prescriptions. And a recent Washington Post investigation found that a disproportionate number of the orders are being shipped to Alabama--mostly to rural areas where there are fewer doctors. It's believed addicts are now taking advantage of this new source of drugs.
A drug and alcohol counselor at Eastwood Presbyterian Church , Don Bowen knows first hand what it's like to be an addict. He abused prescription drugs for years. And after a DUI accident, his addictions landed him in jail.
"I was taking anywhere from 30 to 40 pill a day, sometimes more," Don says. So how do you get that many pills? Doctors say they're easy to find.
"Some people sell prescription drugs on the street because there's a considerable profit involved," says Dr. Greg Skipper, an expert on addictions with theBut Don dit it the easy way. He went doctor shopping, one appointment after another, giving different doctors the same excuse. "You just verbalize some symptoms and the doc would prescribe some pain medication," Don explains. "The doc was trying to help."
These days, doctors and pharmacists are wise to that trick. Pharmacies have databases that flag customers who have filled multiple prescriptions. But that isn't stopping the addicts. Now they're going on-line.
The FDA is investigating almost 400 web sites that offer fast medicine. They're places like pillspro.com or borderpharmacy.com. And the list just keeps growing, including some here at home.
Jeff Grimsley is an investigator with the State Board of Medical Examiners . He says an Alabama doctor, Omar Khalaf, had his license suspended. In the settlement, Khalaf accused of writing prescriptions for a web site, based solely on the answers to e-mailed patient questionnaires.
"He would get the questionnaire and on the back of the prescription was a pre-printed drug," explains Grimsley. "All (Khalaf) had to do was sign his name. That was it." Grimsley says his team of investigators placed an order, and sure enough, a bottle of pills showed up in the mail.
The process is illegal because, to get an initial prescription in Alabama, you must have seen a doctor in person. Grimsley also points out, you'll probably pay more on-line. And there are no guarantees of quality.
"If it's not made here under the regulations of the FDA in the United States, what are you getting?" Grimsley asks. "These drugs aren't tested here."
Don overcame his addictions while in prison. "My life today is wonderful. I'm peaceful and content," he says. According to Don, his time in jail gave him a chance to study the bible.
The same bible, now worn with use, still sits on a shelf in his home. It serves as a constant reminder of his struggles, and how his new found faith is helping heal others.
It's important that we point out that there are reputable web sites out there that sell prescriptions through the mail. Most are operated by national drug store chains. The Medical Association of the State of Alabama. difference is that they don't give you the prescription. You (or your doctor) have to send it in.
The FDA has a guide to selecting reputable web sites. Click here for help.