Bogus prescriptions fuel illegal drug trade

February 7, 2013 6:14:53 PM PST
Law enforcement officials say the latest racket from organized crime rings pushing drugs in North Carolina is flooding local pharmacies with bogus prescriptions.

"They may get five in a car, and they'll take two or three cars," explained Donnie Varnell with the State Bureau of Investigation. "Every five minutes, one will walk into a pharmacy, fill that forged prescription, and go back and get in the car. And then the next person goes five minutes later."

Varnell explained drug traffickers use software readily available on the internet to print their forged prescriptions for narcotics like hydrocodone, OxyContin, and Xanax.

"They're making a lot of money," said Varnell.

A single 30 milligram OxyContin pill sells for about $30 on the street. They're dangerous and highly addictive drugs that can result in death if abused.

"We tell our agents ... 'you're always saving a life.' You know, if I arrest somebody, you know, have I saved that person's life?" said Varnell.

Shannon Ruiz knows how dangerous narcotic painkillers can be. Her daughter Kaitlyn starting taking them after a high school cheerleading injury and became addicted. That addiction killed her.

"I was one of those moms that said, 'Not my child' - just totally blind to the whole addiction," said Ruiz.

She said Kaitlyn got the drugs illegally from a couple in Lenoir County. She died from an overdose at the age of 16.

"When you give someone a narcotic medication, and they die from it, that is a second-degree murder charge," said Ruiz.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says a thousand people die in the state every year from prescription drug abuse, and that's higher than the national average.

"You see people operating machinery and driving under the influence," said Cooper. "You're seeing more robberies and burglaries as a result of people trying to get their hands on prescription drugs."

Cooper said one of the ways to curb the problem is potentially using electronic prescriptions. Cooper also wants more pharmacies using the Controlled Substances Reporting System.

The I-Team discovered that only one quarter of pharmacists are registered to use the system.

Jay Campbell is the director of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy. He says he's urged pharmacies to use the system.

"Is it a useful tool? No question about it. Is it a magic bullet? No," he offered.

Campbell says some pharmacists feel the registration process is too cumbersome and they don't get enough training to use the system.

"We are not contending that it solves all diversion problems. But a quality practitioner should always seek to have access to the informational tools available to them to do their job appropriately. This is a tool to do that," said Campbell.

Agent Varnell told ABC11 he believes pharmacists are on the front lines of this new drug war.

"Pharmacists do not have to fill a prescription, you know. They can decide not to fill that. You know, that doesn't look right," he explained.

As Varnell and his agents work to dismantle the organized drug rings that fill counterfeit prescriptions, Ruiz is on a campaign to raise awareness about people pushing those pills on the street.

"I don't want another child to struggle the way Kaitlyn did. And I don't want another mom to have to bury her child," she said.

Ruiz created a prescription drug education organization in Kinston in honor of her daughter. There's a medication drop box at the Kinston Police Department where residents can get rid of their prescription drugs.

Varnell's agents have trained 4,000 local law enforcement officers to help in the crackdown on organized drug rings.

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