Miami Addicting painkillers, the kind that Rush Limbaugh is reported to have used, are readily available to anyone through the Internet.
A Miami Herald reporter bought 30 tablets of Vicodin ES, an opiate narcotic, from TropicalRx.com simply by filling out an online questionnaire complaining of back pain. The tablets were shipped by Federal Express from Clinical Solutions of South Florida, a pharmacy in Pembroke Pines.
"This is opening the floodgates," said Lauren Williams, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist at the University of Miami. "This is a drug that a physician needs to carefully monitor to look for signs that the patient is abusing it."
Joe Kilmer, Miami spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that since a valid doctor-patient relationship didn't exist before ordering the Vicodin, the pharmacy, the doctor and the reporter were violating the law.
However, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of such online purchases are made daily.
Ray Bean, managing pharmacist at Clinical Solutions, said he had done nothing wrong because a doctor carefully checks all online questionnaires before writing prescriptions.
The doctor listed on the Vicodin prescription obtained by The Miami Herald is Felix Rodriguez Schmidt. No medical doctor or osteopath under that name is licensed in Florida, and Bean wouldn't say where Schmidt was.
Because federal authorities have rarely intervened and a state regulation has yet to be formulated, many pharmacies have been getting into the online business. Most have kept to basics -- such as Viagra and weight-loss medications -- but as time has gone by without law enforcement intervention, more have started offering powerful painkillers as well.
In the case of Rush Limbaugh, several published reports have said his former housekeeper, Wilma Cline, has told investigators that she bought Lorcet, generic hydrocodone and OxyContin for the talk-show host.
Lorcet and Vicodin consist of hydrocodone, a powerful opioid pain killer, and acetaminophen.
Dozens of Web sites, advertised frequently with spam e-mails, boast that they can deliver Vicodin ES as well as the generic hydrocodone.
For the Miami Herald's purchase, a reporter responded to a spam e-mail that led him to TropicalRx.com, which didn't indicate its location. Experts believe that most sites offering painkillers are based overseas.
The reporter, using another person's name, said in an online questionnaire that he had been experiencing severe back pain for a month. He did not answer questions about his primary physician, the physician's phone number or his past medical conditions.
When the reporter received the tablets, he sent some of them to the University of Florida toxicology laboratory, directed by Professor Bruce Goldberger.
Goldberger confirmed the tablets contained hydrocodone and acetaminophen, the ingredients in Vicodin.