WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- More teenagers are getting their hands on prescription drugs and deterring them isn't as easy as monitoring your own medicine cabinet anymore. Controlled medications can be just a few computer clicks away.
Recently, a 15-year-old from Maryland turned to the Internet to buy prescription painkillers. In his first phone call, that you can hear in a video obtained by WUSA 9, the teen calls a hotline for an online pharmacy based overseas to place an order for Percocet. When asked if he has a prescription, the teen says, "No, I don't have a prescription." The operator then responds, "No problem. Sir, we can get that, because if you do not have a prescription, we provide the medication, no problem."
In a call to another online pharmacy, the teen asks for the controlled painkiller hydrocodone, again, without a prescription. This time, he gives his age, saying, "I'm 15 so I'm using my dad's credit card." The operator responds by saying, "so, you are going to use your credit card. So, what type of credit card is that?"
The teen is working with a Washington DC-based watchdog group, Digital Citizens Alliance. Executive director Tom Galvin says, "what we learned in our investigation is overseas pharmacies don't care if you have a prescription and they don't really care how old you are. The main thing that they want is your credit card number or Western Union, so they can sell the drugs."
LegitScript tracks online pharmacies. Founder John Horton policed the industry for the White House for five years and says, "it is disturbingly easy to find a rogue Internet pharmacy that will sell you a prescription drug without a prescription. Research shows that 97 percent of Internet pharmacies are not operating legitimately and most of those do not require a prescription at all."
Digital Citizens also placed two orders online for codeine and hydrocodone. Money was sent to Pakistan and a few days later, a package was delivered from India. Lab tests conducted by Microtrace LLC in Illinois revealed the codeine was real. The alleged hydrocodone was not. Instead, it turned out to be acetaminophen, combined with a prescription anti-inflammatory.
"These pills mills, all you have to do is fill out a form. It's that easy," says Horton. Consumers need to know that these sales are not legitimate. "It is definitely illegal to sell a prescription drug without a prescription. It's also illegal to buy it," according to Horton.
With an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 rogue Internet pharmacies in operation, law enforcement agencies face an uphill battle shutting down online pharmacies dispensing drugs without a prescription, especially when their operations cross many international jurisdictions.
Easy access to controlled substances, and their possible abuse, is reason enough to concern parents. Galvin says, "as a parent of a teenager who hears about these parties where prescription drugs are all put into a big jar and kids just take some to get a high, I think it's incredibly scary to think that there's such access to these drugs online."
Prescription drug abuse by teens is growing by leaps and bounds. A study from The Partnership at Drugfree.org finds one quarter of high school students have abused these medications. That's more than five million children and a 33 percent increase from 2008.