While the common, media-driven image of a drug pusher is of a threatening man standing on a darkened street corner, thousands of drug peddlers sell from the relative comfort of their living rooms or home office computers. The Internet has become a key source of addictive, illicit drugs and a handy resource for other practices to sustain drug use.
Karen Tandy, director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, characterizes Internet sale of drugs as a "vast threat" which she says "is a very significant and all too fatal threat to our kids."
Although legitimate online pharmacies can be beneficial for those who do not have easy access to their prescribed medications, rogue pharmacies, as law enforcement officials call them, often get these narcotics (i.e., prescription painkillers) directly or indirectly from international sources and distribute them to individual purchasers without asking anything about their age or medical history.
In 2005, federal and local law enforcement officials in the United States, India, Costa Rica and Canada arrested 20 drug ring members that at one point sold an estimated 75,000 pills daily. The ringleader - a new brand of drugstore cowboy - was Akhil Bansal, a successful business school student in Philadelphia working closely with his father, a medical doctor in India.
"In a little more than a year, the network had smuggled 11 million prescription tablets to more than 60,000 American addresses, an operation that grossed at least $8 million," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Bansal, convicted of money laundering and 19 drug offenses in 2006, awaits sentencing and faces a possible 30 years in prison. His group brazenly sold 14 different opioids and other narcotics, non-narcotic prescription drugs and ketamine, an illegal "party drug," to website sellers on three continents.
Despite the sensational break-up of the Bansal ring, experts believe that thousands of similar web-based operations are peddling prescription drugs without prescriptions. Francine Haight, whose 18-year-old son Ryan died of an overdose in 2001, has spearheaded a campaign for an Internet Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act. Ryan overdosed on Vicodin, a narcotic pain reliever he bought online. Haight is fighting for a law that will counter the Internet sale of prescription drugs to customers who don't have prescriptions. (The campaign would not affect legitimate pharmacies in Canada and other countries that sell medications at a low cost to individuals with a valid prescription from their U.S. doctors.) Congress has yet to act on the protective measure.
The Internet has also become a resource for information on how to stay one step ahead of drug tests. They: