The Internet: A Pharmaceutical Candy Store

person punching in their credit card number on a keyboard
CBS
Like a lot of parents, Francine Haight didn't realize what her 17-year-old son, Ryan, was doing on the Internet.

"I found Ryan in his bed lifeless," Haight testified during a Senate hearing on the subject.

Ryan died from an overdose of Vicodin and Valium, drugs he purchased online with a credit card and a story, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"He had said he was 21. He said he had been in a car accident and had back pain," said Haight.

In some alarming testimony before the Senate, experts described illegal Internet drug sales as the next American epidemic.

A Columbia University report counted 187 Web sites actively selling painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. Eighty-four percent did not require a prescription, and none of the sites asked if the buyer was a child.

"The Internet has become a pharmaceutical candy store — offering a high to any kid with a credit card at the click of mouse," Joseph Califano of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told the Senate panel.

"Every year, just OxyContin and Vicodin are going to more than a half a million high school students," said Philip Heymann of Harvard Law School.

Parts of the hearing got heated when Senators asked the Drug Enforcement Administration how to attack the problem, and the DEA representative had no new proposals.

"I don't know what's wrong with the DEA," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

"We're not prepared to make a recommendation of a specific measure," said the DEA's Joseph T. Rannazzisi.

Asked when he would be, Rannazzisi said, "I can't give you an answer right now."

But the panel did offer ideas: Have Internet providers allow parents to block access to prescription drug Web sites, and ask the credit card companies not to process payments to what are called rogue Web sites known to law enforcement.

"Suppose you couldn't pay for it with your credit card? Suppose you had to get cash or write a check. That wouldn't prevent it, but it would be harder to do," says Dr. Thomas McLellan, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist specializing in drug abuse treatment.

Fixing the online drug problem will be tough, because most online sellers and Web sites have gone overseas. And Congress — just like the DEA — is just now focusing on that.