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Prescription drugs sold illegally online - ABC7 investigation

October 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prescription drug abuse has grown rapidly in recent years. The FDA has launched a new campaign to crack down on doctors who over-prescribe addictive medications. In an Eyewitness News investigation, we found that these drugs are readily bought without a prescription on the streets and through websites, such as Craigslist.

Over a two-month investigation, we found that Oxycontin, Norco, Xanax, anabolic steroids, Viagra and a variety of prescription drugs are being sold on Craigslist on just about any day.

Eyewitness News has tracked illegal online listings for the past two years, and despite efforts by lawmakers to put a halt to these transactions, they continue to flourish. It's not only against the law to sell medications without a doctor's prescription, health experts say these drugs are often counterfeit, which can pose an even bigger risk.

"Don't do it. It's dangerous. You may end up in the hospital. You may end up dead. If you're trying to save a few bucks, it's not worth your life," said Erick Aguilar, Los Angeles County deputy health officer.

We found multiple postings by Craigslist users in Los Angeles selling Oxycontin, an addictive painkiller that has fueled a surge in prescription drug overdoses.

Eyewitness News went on a sting with members of HALT, a joint task force that includes agents from the L.A. County Sheriff's and Health Services departments.

A Craigslist seller sold 16 Viagra pills for $100 to an undercover sheriff's deputy. A few minutes later, he was busted by the HALT team. The suspect, Edson Villarreal, told us he needed the money so he could go back to school.

"This doesn't even justify it, but I was like hey, you know, why not?" said Villarreal.

Last week, the L.A. County district attorney charged Villarreal with one count of selling a dangerous drug without a license.

Law enforcement officials say it's not just Craigslist; prescriptions are also often sold illegally at storefront swap meets, such as one in South Los Angeles. Members of HALT raided a rundown garage nearby, where they say the drugs came from.

They were packed into boxes and plastic trash bags. Authorities seized an estimated $1 million worth of prescriptions shipped from places like El Salvador and India. HALT says the drugs could be dangerous because they were stored in deplorable and unsafe conditions.

"It was extreme heat. They were out in the sun. There was dog feces all over and it was kind of nasty," said Eric Aguiler with HALT.

Chris Bell is an award-winning documentary filmmaker now working on a film about the dangers of prescription drugs. It's a subject Bell knows all too well. He's a former drug addict who lost control popping pills.

Oxycontin, a highly addictive pain killer, was Bell's drug of choice. He says he got hooked when the pain wouldn't go away after double hip replacement surgery. When his doctor would no longer prescribe the drug, Bell turned to Craigslist to make his buys.

"I went to Craiglist, and I like typed in Oxycontin for the first time and all these things came up. I thought I hit the jackpot," said Bell.

We contacted Craigslist for its response to our story, but the company never got back to us. Craigslist does post the following warning on its website: "Postings connected to or in facilitation of illegal activity are strictly prohibited."

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Redondo Beach) wants to take it a step further and ban Craigslist outright for allowing these postings.

"This is simply illegal and it's time that Craigslist acknowledges it and stop facilitating drug transactions," said Lieu.

Lieu told Eyewitness News he'll meet with representatives from Craigslist on Oct. 30 to discuss his request to take down illegal prescription postings on the website.


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