Dangerous Narcotics A Click Away

Francine Haight's 17-year-old son Ryan was on top of the world, earning straight A's and applying to colleges.

"Always at the top of his class," she says.

Then, as CBS News Correspondent Jim Acosta reports, Ryan's bright future went dark.

"It's really sad because he had such a future ahead of him," says Haight. "He had so much potential."

Ryan overdosed on prescription painkillers.

"I thought, 'How did this happen,'" says his mother.

It was easy. Ryan ordered the drugs right from home at an online pharmacy.

"When you find your child with no life any longer, there's nothing worse," says Haight. "It's just really hard."

After other cases like Ryan's, Internet search engines promised to shut down the paid advertisements, called "sponsored links," that direct users to these dot-com pill mills, where all it takes is bogus answers to a questionaire and a credit card number.

"These doctors on the Internet, they don't know who they're talking to," says Haight. "They could be talking to a 12-year-old child."

Search engine Google said it would remove these paid links last December. (Editor's note: CBSNews.com and Google have a business relationship.)

James Rawson investigates the Internet drug trade for medical boards across the country. When he clicked on Google for CBS News, the sponsored links were still there.

In just three minutes, he demonstrated how one of those links connects to a California doctor who was recently disciplined for writing prescriptions online and who's still doing it.

Rawson, of the Federation of State Medical Boards, says he knows why the doctors do it.

"We're talking millions," says Rawson. "There was a doctor who wrote 1,700 prescriptions in one day."

He just can't understand why Google hasn't pulled the link.

"It would certainly make it harder for people to find the Web sites they're looking for," says Rawson.

The experts say what some doctors are doing on the Web is no different than dealing drugs in a park or on a street corner. Once word of mouth gets out, the addicts will find them.

The FDA has seized cartons of Internet drugs from online pharmacies. The agency warns it doesn't have enough investigators to stop all of the shipments and not enough regulatory power to shut down the Web links.

"There is fear in Congress and the government about squelching a new technology, so people are trying to find a way to solve a public health problem but not not impede the progress of this amazing new technology," says Bill Hubbard, of the FDA.

While Google has not removed the sponsored links, its competitor Yahoo did. Google did not respond to CBS News' request for an interview.

"If they continue ,then they have to be held responsible," says Haight.

She wonders how many Ryans will die before somebody pulls the plug on point-and-click prescriptions. For this mother, the keyword is "Internet responsibility."
  • Jaime Holguin

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