Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Donny is a married lawyer with a successful Midtown practice - and a full-fledged addiction to Ambien, a prescription sleeping pill.
"A year ago, my doctor gave it to me when I was having trouble sleeping, and I got hooked," said Donny, 35, who asked that his full name not be printed.
Donny admits his heavy use of the drug has wiped out parts of his memory. But he insists, "It's really great."
He sees no reason to get treatment.
"I'll take two [pills], so it really mellows me out. I feel like if I take it, I'm going to get a good night's sleep, and if not, I don't," he said.
And when he needs to restock his supply, Donny boots up his home computer and places his 90-pill order.
"I have the site bookmarked," he says, noting that he's been buying Ambien on the Internet for so long that he doesn't even remember which peddler supplies him.
Junkies who abuse prescription pills are not new. What's changing in the city and elsewhere now is how they score.
Increasingly, New York pill poppers get what they need through the Internet, according to treatment experts and those who track the sites. They note that the explosion of online pharmacies has made potent narcotics just a mouse click away - and they're deeply concerned that the problem is getting worse.
"The abuse has been exacerbated by the Internet," said Mary Bohnen, program director of the Freedom Institute, an outpatient center at Madison Avenue and 53rd Street that currently treats 125 addicts.
"There's so much shame connected with addiction, and with the Internet, it's totally impersonal. The sense of guilt is diminished."
Ed Smith, a director of the Narconon rehab program in California, which usually has several New Yorkers among its 250 patients each year, said he was troubled about the online sales of powerhouse opiates like Vicodin and Oxycontin - drugs that are more addictive than heroin and more dangerous to quit.
"I can't stress how wrong that is and how many problems that's going to create in the future," he said. "When people find out there's an online way to get drugs, they start ordering - without ever seeing a doctor."
Many of the sites don't require a prescription or ask for a patient's medical history. Some supply a questionnaire - with all the right answers already filled in. All the buyer needs is a credit card.
Online buyers tend to be younger and wealthier than other types of addicts, experts say. But they include all types: blue- and white-collar workers, men, women, senior citizens.
Adolescents start with stimulants like Ritalin, which is widely available on the Web and used to treat attention-deficit problems, those who are tracking the problem say.
Young professionals tend to go online after exhausting a legitimate supply prescribed by a doctor, dentist or shrink.
They are often drawn to popular drugs including Vicodin - to which "Friends" star Matthew Perry became addicted - or Valium or Xanax.
Hank, a 50-year-old heroin addict from Long Island now in recovery at Narconon, said the reason he didn't go online to order painkillers was that he didn't want to wait for them to arrive in the mail.
"It probably would have been easier," said the married owner of a car-finance company.
Instead, he conned emergency- room docs into giving him the drugs.
Treatment centers admit they're only now learning the extent to which their patients get drugs via the Internet.
"It's a question we need to start asking," said Mary Silberstein, division director of the Pederson-Krag centers. "The access to the drugs is there."
Although the Food and Drug Administration and several state prosecutors have pursued some of the pharmacies, the sites continue to proliferate.
"We need to put more effort into combating these problems," said William Hubbard, an associate commissioner at the FDA.