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Radiation Fears Spawn Black Market For Potassium Iodide

By David Goldstein

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — With worries about radiation running high in Southern California, some people are trying to turn a quick buck off of people's fallout fears.

With a hidden camera we went undercover and found a red-hot black market for potassium iodide.

The pill is supposed to prevent your body from absorbing radiation and with the nuclear meltdowns in Japan, nervous Californians have wiped the shelves clean at pharmacies.

So we went on Craigslist and found plenty of people cashing in on the crisis with their own underground supply.

In West L.A. our undercover producer met with Aaron. He was selling thyroid capsules containing potassium iodide and other ingredients.

"If you've been exposed to radiation, I would take those immediately... and just take one a day," Aaron said to our producer.

His ad said they could protect against radiation. The price was a steep -- $80 for a 60-tablet bottle that we found sold in stores for as low as $13 a few weeks ago.

But he said it was a bargain.

"I'm sure they're going to be like a hundred dollars now in the stores," Aaron said.

He claimed it was the only bottle that he was selling and that he had 400 emails from people wanting to buy it. But he lowered the price to $40.

But Aaron shied away from the camera when we later approached him. But are the thyroid pills really the bargain that he claimed?

Aaron: "I don't want to be on TV."

David Goldstein: "You were talking about how they can protect you. They can't really protect you."

Aaron: "That's what I was told by people at Vitamin Shoppe."

We found that you can buy that exact same amount of potassium iodide in the pills Aaron sold us, in a number of vitamins found in your local drug store. But they contain only a fraction of the amount recommended to prevent your body from absorbing radiation.

Pharmacist Ike Dzhragatspanyan makes his own potassium iodide pills which contain the dosage recommended by the government. He said what we bought has such a small dosage that you would need to take 900 a day to protect against radiation.

David Goldstein: "Is that going to protect me?"

Ike Dzhragatspanyan: "Absolutely not. What you bought you're wasting your money."

But we also found that you can buy the real potassium iodide on Craigslist.

Near USC we met with Jonathan. His ad said $95 for a bottle that we found sold in stores for $17 a few weeks ago.

"It's a good product, I know it's expensive, but this is the best and this is a hundred dollars less than I'm selling it to everyone else right now," Jonathan said.

Sure enough, he now wanted $140.

We paid him the cash.

When I later asked Jonathan, he said it was simply supply and demand.

David Goldstein: "Do you see anything wrong with someone like yourself, and others, who are advertising on craigslist, profiting off something like this?"

Jonathan: "No."

The bottom line is it is not illegal. Sellers can get anything they can and with the fear that radiation may blowing in the winds, the prices are going sky high.

"I've been raising the price like 50 bucks an hour and I'm still getting emails from people," Jonathan said.

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