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Date Posted: 00:12:52 11/06/03 Thu
Author: Jackie
Subject: Agent describes Internet pharmacy operations

Agent describes Internet pharmacy operations

By CATHERINE WILSON
AP Business Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. --
A Web site offered to pay a pharmacist $5 plus expenses for each online prescription he filled as hundreds of requests poured each day, a drug agent testified Tuesday.

The testimony at a hearing on a shuttered pharmacy's attempt to regain its federal license indicates the profit potential in a burgeoning Internet-based drug system that requires no doctor visits.

The pharmacist who declined the $5-per-order offer was interviewed in an investigation into diet and sleep drug prescriptions filled for people who answer online questionnaires.

Rx Network of South Florida was shut down Oct. 22 when the Drug Enforcement Administration raided its office and carted away bags full of diet pills.

Less than two weeks before, Lifeline, another pharmacy that filled online orders in the same complex was raided and shut down.

U.S. District Judge William Zloch said he would rule this week after hearing Rx Network's challenge to the DEA's civil enforcement action. A different judge has rejected Lifeline's attempt to reinstate its license.

Lifeline filled orders for diet and sleep aids. Rx Network shipped only diet drugs, primarily the stimulant Bontril.

The investigation began in March 2002 after a diet drug maker told the DEA in Washington that it saw a national magazine ad by a Web site offering its product without a doctor's visit.

DEA agent Donna Richards described two Web sites that offered the drugs. One of them offered to supply a veteran pharmacist with computers, vials and FedEx packaging to launch the business.

Richards testified that agents placed eight orders and received six of them from Rx Network. One went to a Mailboxes Etc office in North Carolina.

On the latest order this month, Richards said, "It had gone through the Internet, supposedly through the doctor, through the pharmacy and to the FedEx location in less than an hour."

When another order was rejected in February based on her height and weight, she said she added 25 pounds, "clicked on the submit button and the order went through."

Mary Pu, Rx Network's pharmacy department manager, testified that she recalled the names of four physicians who authorized the online prescriptions.

She said she waited until a state attempt to shut down the company failed earlier this year before accepting the job.

She and Rod Presnell, former executive director of the Florida Board of Pharmacy, testified that they believed the prescriptions were valid under federal and state regulations.

The DEA's order to close Rx Network claimed it posed an imminent danger to public health and safety.

Under that standard and accounting for endemic prescription fraud, Rx Network attorney Sean Ellsworth said, "The DEA would have to close down every pharmacy, retail, mail order, every pharmacy."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Marilynn Lindsay argued Rx Network "is throwing up a smoke screen in the court's eyes."

Rx Network has dispensed more than 19 million doses of drugs since it received its license in February 2001, the DEA said.

Pu estimated the company filled an average of about 500 online orders a day.

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