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Published March 23, 2012, 11:12 PM

North Dakota’s AG to go after Internet drug sales

Will spearhead criminal prosecutions of out-of-state docs prescribing medications
BISMARCK – The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office will spearhead criminal prosecutions of any out-of-state doctors found to be illegally prescribing medication over the Internet.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office will spearhead criminal prosecutions of any out-of-state doctors found to be illegally prescribing medication over the Internet.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday that his office has agreed to take the lead on any prosecutions, which normally would be handled at the county level.

The step is intended to send a strong signal to rogue doctors that the state is cracking down as part of a campaign to combat the “epidemic” of prescription drug abuse, which Stenehjem called the most pressing problem for state drug task forces.

“I think we need to send a message,” Stenehjem said. “We’ll consider bringing them here to answer for it because they’re hurting our citizens.”

The action was requested by the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners, which has identified between 10 and 15 out-of-state doctors it believes prescribed tramadol, a painkiller, without a license and without personal examinations of the patient.

The board, which met Friday, voted to make up to $20,000 available to help defray the costs of extraditing out-of-state physicians for practicing medicine in North Dakota without a license or prescribing drugs without a proper examination.

“That’s a very dangerous situation,” said Duane Houdek, an attorney who serves as the board of medical examiners’ executive secretary.

“The board wanted to make a statement,” he added. “You simply can’t be practicing without a license.”

Violations of laws requiring a medical license and proper patient examinations to prescribe medicine are misdemeanor crimes and usually left to counties to prosecute, Stenehjem said.

But because the prescriptions were written around the state, in multiple counties, it makes sense to streamline the investigation and prosecution, so the state will step in, he said.

An agent of the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation will interview Houdek to learn about the Board of Medical Examiners’ findings and determine whether crimes were committed, Stenehjem said.

“These Internet pharmacies are getting to be a real problem,” he said. Physicians should examine patients face-to-face and monitor their drug usage “for obvious and good health care reasons,” Stenehjem said.

Abuse of prescription painkillers including tramadol is a huge problem in North Dakota and around the nation, he said. More people in the state die of accidental drug overdose than firearms.

“It’s a wide-ranging problem,” Stenehjem said. “It’s much more difficult than meth,” or methamphetamines. “It moves in waves across the state and is a real cause for alarm.”

The North Dakota Board of Pharmacy is also taking action against three out-of-state Internet pharmacies for improperly selling tramadol in the state. All three have halted sales in the state and are subject to fines and assessment of costs.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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