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Date Posted: 11:44:51 08/18/03 Mon
Author: Dolly
Subject: Online prescription drug trade has deadly cost
In reply to: Observer 's message, "In the media" on 12:46:08 08/04/03 Mon

Online prescription drug trade has deadly cost

An inquest decided last week that Liam Brackell killed himself after becoming addicted to drugs that he bought on the Internet. The scale of this trade in Prozac, Ritalin, Seroxat and Zyban is shocking
By Antony Barnett
THE OBSERVER
Saturday, Aug 16, 2003,Page 9


ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

Alan had just turned 50 and was desperate to give up smoking. The accountant from London was diabetic and his health was suffering badly. He had tried everything: patches, hypnosis and willpower. Nothing had worked.

He heard from an American friend of a new "miracle drug," Zyban, that was relieving people's nicotine craving. He had read of possible side-effects, but was determined to beat his habit.

Alan was also told there was now a simple way of getting the drug without a trip to his family doctor. He could buy it on the Internet.

He turned on his computer and within minutes had ordered Zyban from a website. The drugs arrived in a few days. And that's when his real problems began.

"He used to be completely zonked. He would say he was on planet Zyban," a friend said. "At first that was OK, because at least he stopped smoking, but then he became suicidal. It was a nightmare."

Luckily for Alan he was able to stop taking the drug and, within a few days, return to his normal self. Liam Brackell was not so lucky. An inquest heard last week how the 24-year-old musician and mathematics graduate threw himself in front of a train in June after becoming addicted to a cocktail of prescription drugs he was ordering online.

Brackell became dependent on prescription drugs, such as opiates and anti-depressants. At one point he was receiving 300 anti-depressant tablets in the post every day at his home in Wanstead, east London. By the time of his death he had tried 23 types of prescription drugs.

In fact, it is shockingly easy to obtain prescription drugs on the Internet, often without any safeguards or medical control. All you need is a computer and a credit card, and no doctor's prescription or consultation. Some online pharmacies even boast: "No prescription? No doctor? No problem!"

In the space of 30 minutes and for less than ?500 , an Observer reporter managed to fill a medical cabinet full of prescription drugs, including opiates and anti-depressants, without having to leave the office. Many of the drugs have dangerous side-effects that some believe lead to an increased risk of suicide.

As part of its investigation, The Observer was given access to Brackell's computer by his parents. Shortly before his suicide, Brackell had bought an anti-psychotic drug Olanzapine from a US Web site. This is one of the most powerful psychiatric drugs available and is used to treat schizophrenics. He also ordered drugs from a British-based firm called Inhouse Pharmacy (UK), which has an office in London. Although it is illegal for any company to supply such drugs without prescription, Brackell ordered anti-depressants including Aurorix, Efexor and Buspar.

With a click of the mouse, The Observer accessed the Inhouse Pharmacy site and for ?65 bought 30 Prozac pills and 30 Seroxat, the anti-depressant now subject to a UK Department of Health investigation. Inhouse Pharmacy's Web site boasts: "There is NO requirement to forward a prescription when ordering. There is NO online consultation required." All a buyer has to do is give a credit card number and within days the drugs will come through the letter box.

Dr Paul Cundy, spokesman on computer issues for the British Medical Association, admitted he was "totally shocked" that these type of drugs were available online without prescription.

"This shows the horror of what can happen with online pharmacies. We are not talking about lifestyle drugs but hard-core pharmaceuticals. Many local, family doctors would not prescribe these drugs but leave it to highly experienced psychiatrists. That a young man could get these drugs is an absolute tragedy."

Brackell's parents are campaigning for the British government to tighten up the law on unregulated Web sites.

Sue Brackell said: "These companies are cynically manipulating vulnerable people. If the government persists in its refusal to address this problem, lives will continue to be destroyed by unscrupulous profiteers who are given free rein to peddle and push their drugs."

Her son had a degree in mathematics from Durham University in northern England, but it does not take a computer genius to get access to these potentially lethal chemicals. Tapping "Valium" into the Google search engine brings up a Web site run by Most Trusted Pharmacy offering "fast, secure and discreet shipping." The Observer bought 30 tablets for US$89 along with 28 tablets of Prozac, the anti-depressant, for US$69. A further US$169 bought 30 Ritalin, used to treat children for hyper-activity. Although researchers believe Ritalin is safe, questions remain about its long-term side-effects.

The anti-acne drug Roaccutane was also offered at US$179 for a packet of 30. This is another drug which some critics believe has led to the suicide of young people.

Many of the sites The Observer visited did not ask its reporter anything about his age or health condition. One Web site was happy to supply Viagra, even though he registered as an 83-year-old man with high blood pressure.

A handwritten note Brackell left behind shows he visited a Web site called smart-drugs which appears to be run from the Channel Islands. A journalist posing as a customer who wanted to buy anti-depressants was told by an agent that the firm could not ship to the UK because it would break the law. However, without any coaxing, he added: "Many of our UK customers have an alternative address that we send the drugs to. Maybe you have a member of your family or friend who lives outside Britain, in which case we would be happy to send them there."

The Observer has passed the evidence it has collected to the UK Department of Health, which has promised to investigate and take action. A spokeswoman said: "Any Web site reported to us which appears to be in breach of regulations on the advertising, sale or supply of medicines will be investigated. The names supplied to us will be referred to the enforcement group who will investigate whether UK medicines legislation has been breached. If so, and if the site falls within our jurisdiction, appropriate action will be taken."

Brackell's mother also wants the pharmaceutical industry to police itself better and ensure its products do not get into the wrong hands. She said: "How can they allow their drugs to be sold in such a way? They must take responsibility for their products and be able to trace who sells them."

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  • Canada is drying up as pharmacy option -- Bob, 11:34:23 09/02/03 Tue
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