Pill-mill customers turning to the Web

Before Wellington pill-mill mogul Jeff George opened a chain of pain clinics, he sold steroids online. Brisk sales earned him seed money to launch other illegal businesses.

While George’s online drugstore is out of commission, rogue pharmacies remain, enabling Americans to illegally buy narcotics and other addictive drugs.

In fact, Internet pill peddlers never had it so good: A Palm Beach Post review of sites found they’re aided by major companies, a loophole in a well-intentioned law and an abundance of offshore havens stretching from Ukraine to China.

These online sellers have homegrown ties. Sites examined by The Post typically relied on a U.S. Web support operation. In addition, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are used to hawk drugs, and rogue pharmacies are as close as a search on Google.

More troubling, a rise in Internet narcotics purchases is expected as regional pill mills shutter and addicts scramble for other sources of such popular and deadly narcotics as oxycodone. That’s a particular concern for Florida: Prescription drug overdoses caused more deaths than traffic accidents in the state last year.

“Crack down on pill mills, and people will go to the (Internet) because it’s an easy source -- and they deliver to your front door,” said Dr. Bryan Liang, vice president of Partnership for Safe Medicines, an advocacy group.

“Online sales are on the rise over the past year,” confirmed Ira Levy of Sunrise Detox, a substance abuse treatment center. “We’ve seen it grow.”

Despite the surge, it’s against federal law to possess narcotics without a valid prescription -- or to sell them online without such a prescription. Sites examined by The Post did offer to sell without a prescription, though.

Others provided a cursory written or oral “exam” with a physician, or sold access to other sites that directly sell drugs without a face-to-face consultation with a doctor.

“I found 10 sites in 10 minutes,” said Sean Ryan, an addiction specialist at West Palm Beach’s Hanley Center. “Basically, you can buy anything online.”

Covering tracks

Take Tap a few keys, and Medsindia promises you can pick up 120 pills of Darvocet, a painkiller banned in the United States and Europe, for $238.80. No proof of a prescription is needed.

Tijuana Pharmacy offers 10 tabs of OxyContin for $450. Foreign Drugstores Online advertises access to pharmacies selling morphine, 30 tabs for $100.

Despite the foreign-sounding names, they’re not entirely offshore. Foreign Drugstores Online has an address traceable to a strip mall in Pasadena, Calif.

Medsindia’s contact person, according to its website registration, is Larry Burstein, who lists a Wyoming phone number. The company that maintains the website’s online address is based in Virginia.

Identified in 10-year-old media reports as a former traveling salesman from Buffalo, N.Y., a Larry Burstein previously operated an “international” online drug information website from a home in Sarasota.

More often, determining where the site originates is a mystery worthy of Where’s Waldo?

Take Pharmacy4Pills.

The company that handled its Web registration ap- pears to be a corporation in the Bahamas; its Internet address is handled by a company in Pennsylvania; and the contact person is in Vanuatu, a tiny South Pacific archipelago -- using a disconnected Atlanta phone number.

Neither are mail shipping labels any guarantee of location. Liang points out pharmacies may ship drugs to one customer using another customer’s return address.

Palm Beach Post Staff writers Michael LaForgia and Adam Playford contributed to this story.