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Online Drugs: 'Everyone Does It'

Would you stick a needle in your stomach if you didn’t have to? Neither would I.

But apparently lots of people do. They’re over-eager body-builders. Extreme dieters. They inject drugs they buy on the Internet.

That crowd can buy their performance-enhancing drugs from two companies that have the same address in Largo: US Injectables and US Peptides.

Neither has a pharmacy license, which Florida requires in order to sell medicines online. Both companies sell drugs that are banned for athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

US Peptides sells amino acid products like IGF or GHRP that supposedly encourage the body to produce more growth hormone.

The other company, US Injectables, sells mostly HCG. That’s a hormone in pregnant women that some people tout as a muscle-builder and others for weight loss – although there’s no proof for either claim.

Videos on the website tell buyers how to mix the HCG, how to pinch up the fat so they can shoot the needle into their abdomen.

(Woman, demonstrating: The injection will be in your stomach area, not in the belly button. it could be above or beside, you just wipe the area with an alcohol prep pad. You're going to pinch and insert the needle.)

The address for the website companies is a strip mall just off busy 66th Street in Largo. It’s a small space, with no sign and dark-tinted windows.

When I opened the door and went in, I noticed a large box off to the side, filled with vials of clear liquid. Three young men stood at a counter packing small cardboard mailers.

I didn’t get to stay long; the owner, Don Pierce, asked me to leave. He wouldn’t answer questions, beyond insisting that his operation is legal. He said the drugs come from compounding pharmacies.

Family practitioner Ken Woliner of Boca Raton:

"They’ll give you a small internet questionnaire: What’s your weight? Do you have any medical conditions?, he says. "Then, they’ll ship you a box priority mail. In the box will be some vials, from a pharmacy called GBTRX Inc.

How are you prescribing this to people you've never met, never examined, never done a history or physical on? 'Oh, this is safe, there's no problem, everyone else does it.'

That’s the real name of a Boca Raton compounding pharmacy that does business as KRS Global Technology.

"They sent it to Largo, where US Injectables is based, just based on an internet questionnaire, mailed me these vials, along with some needles, stuff like that, of this drug," says Woliner. "You’ll notice there’s no name of a patient on it, no name of a doctor on it. So I called up US Injectables and I say I got this thing in the mail, no name of a doctor on it, is this real stuff? Oh yeah that's real stuff. Which doctor prescribed it? Denis Stewart. Can I speak to Denis Stewart? They actually gave me his cell number.

"So I called him up," he continued, "and he said 'Oh yes this is safe, this is perfectly fine. I went to Arizona and other people are doing this, it's perfectly fine'.

"I said, 'Let me be honest with you, I’m a physician. Everyone else does it," says Woliner. "I like that phrase. Everyone else does it."

We wanted to ask KRS, the compounder that makes drugs for the Largo companies, where they buy their ingredients and how much they know about the online sales, but they did not return our calls. Neither did Dr. Stewart, who prescribed the HCG from afar. Records show he’s a co-owner of US Injectables. He has a clear medical license with no pending complaints.

I called an expert about the websites : Paul Doering, pharmacy professor at University of Florida.

"I don’t often use the word preposterous, " he says. "To think HCG is safe and effective - especially without medical supervision, I would go so far as to say it is in fact preposterous."

The sad thing is there are a lot of unsuspecting people out there who as we speak are taking their credit cards out to order the stuff.

State health officials confirmed they were told about the websites last fall, but they have not filed complaints.

-See this related story: Unlicensed Pharmacies Sell on Web

--Health News Florida is a service of WUSF Public Media.  Contact Editor Carol Gentry at (desk) 813-974-8629 or (cell) 727-410-3266 or by e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, Gentry worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel. She was a Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow in 1994-95 and earned an Master's in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996. She directed a journalism fellowship program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years.Gentry created Health News Florida, an independent non-profit health journalism publication, in 2006, and served as editor until September, 2014, when she became a special correspondent. She and Health News Florida joined WUSF in 2012.
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