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Powerful and Addictive Drugs Being Sold Without a Prescription at Pharmacies; Walking Around With a Spike in Your Head: How It Happened and How It Was Removed; Olympic Swimmer Dara Torres

Aired July 12, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSE CALL. This is a show that helps you live longer and stronger.
First up, right now, there are powerful and addictive drugs being sold without a prescription. No, not on the street, but at pharmacies. We're going to investigate.

And walking around with a spike in your head for two days. We've got an inside look at how it happened and the amazing operation to remove it.

Finally, an amazing story for all the moms out there. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, she's 41-years-old, a world record holder, and the mother of a 2-year-old. Wow. How does she do all that?

We start, though, with an alert. The salmonella probe is going in the wrong direction. More foods are being added to the suspicious list. In addition to certain tomatoes, investigators are now looking at jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers, and fresh cilantro as possible culprits. More than 1,000 people have become sick in 41 states and Canada. It's now the country's largest food-borne outbreak in a decade.

It's a remarkably difficult investigation. You know, in order to pinpoint the culprit, you have to ask people who got sick exactly what they ate over the last several days. I can't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

And another story, dad's biological clock may be ticking along with mom's. Surprising new research shows conceiving is harder involving men over 40. And the pregnancy is more likely to end in miscarriage. Now, we've known that women have age-related fertility problems, but now researchers are saying as men age, the DNA in their sperm may become damaged. Is that a clock I hear?

Now, what if I told you some of the most addictive, powerful and dangerous drugs in the world can be purchased over the Internet without a prescription? Really sounds unbelievable, but it's happening every day. A huge hole in the system makes buying prescription drugs so easy, it is shocking. And a CNN special investigation finds nothing is being done about it.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nancy Fitzpatrick wanted to kill herself. She was facing eviction and had no money.

NANCY FITZPATRICK, ATTEMPTED SUICIDE: I wanted to end it. I wanted to die. So I took about 50 somas, I took 80 Amitriptomine (ph). And that's all I remember.

GRIFFIN: She had been living a secret life away from her family, but she lived and lived to tell the story to her brother David, a CNN investigative producer. It's a story about just how easy it is to buy dangerous drugs purchased online.

FITZPATRICK: I just typed in soma and all these Web sites popped up. And I just picked one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever speak with a doctor?


GRIFFIN: Then how did this woman in Ocean City, Washington get this bottle of the prescription muscle relaxant soma prescribed by this doctor Kareem Tannous in Long Island, New York?

Can I ask you, did you ever see this patient, Nancy Fitzpatrick? Can you let me know how these prescriptions are filled, sir?

That's what this story is all about, because prescription drugs are the new crack and heroin. And Internet sites that sell them, according to the National Pharmacy Board, are the new drug dealers.

CARMEN CATIZONE, NATL. ASSN. OF PHARMACY BOARDS: Can order virtually any drug in the world by simply clicking a mouse and going to the various Web sites that exist out there.

GRIFFIN: Don't believe him? Neither did I until I pulled up The site sent us an e-mail saying all orders made are still subjected to doctor's evaluation, but take a look at what happened when I ordered Prozac. When I placed my order, the health survey on the site was already filled in. Within 24 hours, the package was sitting at my front door.

(on camera): And this is what is inside. It's Prozac in its generic form prescribed to me by a doctor I've never heard of somewhere in Tennessee. Isn't this illegal? Of course it is.

CATIZONE: It is illegal in all of the states.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But individual states are hard pressed to enforce their laws says Catizone.

Can you help me understand how this works, sir?

As for the doctors names on the bottle.

Can I show you this prescription bottle, sir? Excuse me? Dr. Tannous?

GRIFFIN: Dr. Kareem Tannous, whose name was on Nancy Fitzpatrick's prescription, lives in a $4 million home on four acres on Long Island.

FITZPATRICK: They need to be stopped. It just -- it boggles my mind that it's so simple.

GRIFFIN: It could be stopped right here in Washington, but when pharmacy regulators came to Capitol Hill asking lawmakers for a national law to stop Internet sales, the boards of pharmacy says it got a chilling response.

CATIZONE: The response has always been, show us the dead bodies.


GUPTA: And later in the show, more on buying prescription drugs on the Internet. In fact, how one case turned deadly. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL.

Earlier in the show, we learned just how easy it is to buy prescription drugs online, making it even more simple to abuse them. After the death of her husband, one widow followed a trail of web purchases to a rural town.



GRIFFIN (voice-over): He was 38.


GRIFFIN: She doesn't want us to show you his face. She doesn't even want us to use his name or hers for that matter. Her husband's family is still having a hard time with the accidental overdose that killed him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once you get a person addicted to something, which is what has happened, it takes more and more pills and more and more pills. His body couldn't take it anymore.

GRIFFIN: The coroner ruled his death an accidental overdose. Soma was the drug he used to go to sleep. Only he constantly needed more and more of it. By the end, his weekly addiction of 90 pills was costing more than $400 a month. She thought it was legal and thought because a doctor's name was on that bottle, somehow her husband was under a doctor's care. She now knows only too late none of the doctors ever saw her husband. And one of them was actually in another country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These doctors that are doing this, they don't give a dad gum about people. It's just the all mighty dollar, that's all it is.

GRIFFIN: She was unable to let it go. And she traced her husband's prescriptions to this tiny pharmacy in Lyons, Kansas. She filed a complaint with the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy. And this past March, the state ordered Hogans out of business, saying it violated numerous state regulations. There's a criminal investigation as well.

(on camera): By the end, this little pharmacy was doing huge business. Two shipments a day leaving here, three to five packages at noon, another 300 to 500 packages by the end of the day. 1,000 prescriptions a day, leaving Hogan's Pharmacy here in Lyons, Kansas.

But that is barely a dent in the Internet drug business. Remember the soma Nancy Fitzpatrick used to try to kill herself? Well, that came from a pharmacy, operating out of this second floor office in American Fork, Utah. When we walked in the door at Ruth's Pharmacy, we found boxes and boxes of empty FedEx envelopes waiting to be filled. When we went upstairs.

We want to ask you about selling these drugs over the Internet without prescriptions.

The staff inside wouldn't open the door. Minutes later, to our surprise, one of the employees decided to empty the trash.

This is a whole big bag of empty pill bottles.

What kind of pills? Carisopredol, known to you and me and the addicts of it around the world as the muscle relaxant soma. Big bottles, wholesale bottles, used to fill prescriptions sent around the world.


GUPTA: And here are some surprising new statistics. A recent Columbia University report finds 85 percent of Web sites selling controlled prescription drugs like Oxycontin, Valium and Xanax, some of the ones that Drew was mentioning, do not require a prescription. And in 2007, 80 percent of prescriptions for controlled substances were filled on Internet pharmacies, compared to only 11 percent in traditional pharmacies. Obviously, this trend is not going away and Drew Griffin joins us now from the nation's capitol.

Drew, an amazing report, first of all. And I got to say as a doctor, I mean, it was sort of alarming. You don't need a prescription, not even any questions about your health. What were some of the reactions from some of the government agencies about this?

GRIFFIN: You know, we came here looking for answers, Sanjay. And this Internet drug business is growing and growing. Congress has looked at it, had a couple of hearings, but really no action.

So these rogue pharmacies are able to operate under loopholes in the law, gray areas. I'll just give you a quick example of our reporting. We went to the Drug Enforcement Agency, you know, Administration trying to find answers. They said look, we don't get involved unless these are controlled substances like cocaine. So you need to go to the Food and Drug Administration.

Well, we went to the FDA. And the FDA says look, we're a health organization, not cops. You need to go back to the DEA. The rogue pharmacies know this is going on and they just continue to operate as normal.

GUPTA: So, they don't call it a controlled substance unless it's cocaine or something like that. It's remarkable. So you did the story. I mean, what is the best advice, if somebody's watching, they think well this could be happening to someone in my family. They might be getting addicted because of this?

GRIFFIN: Yes, well, the people who have watched it to their family, watched people die in their family or almost die in their family, say, listen, you have to watch out for them. What these Internet pharmacies allow people to do very quickly, Sanjay, as you probably know, is get addicted. They become addicted. They use those credit cards.

And if your loved one starts having these bills show up on the credit cards or you're having pills show up at your door, you need to ask questions and you need to intervene. Really, it's up to the people who empower themselves to try to stop this, because no one else is looking in from the outside.

GUPTA: Thanks so much for being on the show, Drew. An incredible report as always. Thank you very much. Drew Griffin from "SIU."

Now, an incredible story you have to see to believe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The blunt part of the pin actually hit me first and hit me right next to the nose and came back and traveled all the way to the back of my head.


GUPTA: And he walked around for two days with that spike in his head. The story just ahead.

Plus, setting records and heading for the Olympics. The catch, she's 41-years-old, a mom, and she was retired.


GUPTA: Checking some of this week's top stories on the health page now. More than a dozen babies given an overdose of the blood thinner heparin. Two of them have died. The hospital says a mix-up in the pharmacy is to blame.

And the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, two lawsuits filed in vaccine court claiming the vaccine caused adverse reactions. We're going to follow that along.

Also, Olympian and 41-year-old mom Dara Torres headed to Beijing. How does she do it? We're going to have more on her story later on.

One of the stories that was the most popular with us was about a 19-year-old who ends up with a metal spike in his head and doesn't even realize it. I'm going to have the details of his amazing surgical removal.

But first, Nicole Vandeputte has his incredible story. She's with our affiliate KOAA.


NICOLE VANDEPUTTE, KOAA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chris' unbelievable story starts in April.

DAWN CLEAR, SON HAD METAL PIN IN BRAIN: And it's changed his life because of what happened to him.

VANDEPUTTE: As a volunteer firefighter in Penrose, his free time was spent saving lives until the accident. He was helping a friend move a rototiller when something snapped.

CHRIS CLEAR, HAD METAL PIN IN BRAIN: At first it just felt like a rock hit me in the face. It didn't feel like anything actually went into my head. It just -- like a rock hit me.

D. CLEAR: He said, do you think, you know, that it's bad? And I said yes, it looks bad. I said I think your nose is broke.

VANDEPUTTE: Chris went to St. Thomas Moore Hospital in Canyon City. He says he had unbearable pain in his neck. So that's where the first x-ray focused.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They just sent him home, said it was a cervical sprain.

But the pain got worse.

C. CLEAR: It hurt real bad to turn my head either direction or lean it back, or lean it forward. If I like looked down, it hurt real bad. Or if I leaned back real far, it made the pain worse.

D. CLEAR: If he went forward, then the pin would come forward. If he would lay down, then the pin would sink back down.

VANDEPUTTE: That's right. A large metal spike from the rototiller was lodged in his brain. It was that, not a rock that hit him.

C. CLEAR: The blunt part of the pin actually hit me first. And it hit me right next to the nose and it came back and traveled all the way to the back of my head. And it ended up back here. It stopped by hitting the back of my skull.

VANDEPUTTE: Twenty-four hours after the spike pierced his brain, another x-ray and a second trip to the hospital finally found it.

D. CLEAR: He said you need to sit down. And he said Chris has a metal pin in his brain. My knees buckled. And I just hit the floor.

VANDEPUTTE: An ambulance rushed Chris and his mom Dawn to a Denver hospital.

D. CLEAR: Death was the number one, which that we knew going into it, that he would not come out of the surgery. And then, of course, the ones after that, paralysis, mobility, speech.

VANDEPUTTE: Luckily, that pin just missed several major arteries. And after nine hours of surgery.

D. CLEAR: It was like we were in a movie. That double door opened up and there, the doctor was holding this pin, you know, like this.


GUPTA: What an incredible story. And we talked with the family. And Chris is already back to work. In fact, continuing his training as an EMT. Now he does have some lingering vision problems, but that's it. That's no surprise considering this pin actually went in right underneath his eye and ended up in his brain.

Here's his eyes over here, his nose, mouth. This pin came straight back. And there, you can see it. That's the pin that doctors had to try and remove.

Now, they took Chris to the operating room and actually put him in -- made a small incision in the back of his head. And you can see an instrument actually going through this brain and almost getting to the spike. The spike is here. The instrument is here. This doctors had to try and go in there, lasso the spike, and bring it back out through the back of the head, which is exactly what they did successfully.

And Chris is doing well. We wish you the best of luck. And also, viewers at home, don't try this at home.

As a parent, having to bring your baby to the hospital can be a scary and painful experience. But a recent study shows it can be much more than painful for your child. Many babies are not given anything for the pain at all for any of those sticks or those tests.

In fact, in today's "Empowered Patient," Elizabeth Cohen has some practical steps you might take to soothe your child -- Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, as a parent, you know that one of the hardest things for a mom or dad is to see their child in pain. Well, there have been several studies that say that doctors and hospitals aren't always doing everything they can to limit a child's pain. In fact, there was a study just last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association. So what can you do for your baby or child to make sure that they don't have too much pain from a medical procedure? Here are three tips that we have.

First of all, for small babies, before they get a shot or any kind of needle in their skin, dip a pacifier in sucrose solution and give it to the baby. The sugar actually has an effect on the brain so they don't feel the pain quite as much. You can also ask for a topical ointment before a needle goes into your baby's skin, an ointment that will take away some of the pain and needs to be given in advance.

And also, don't be scared of opiates. Sometimes when a baby or a child has to have a procedure that's very painful, an opiate is really the best choice. And there are no long-lasting effects experts tell me -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: All right, thanks, Elizabeth.

And find out why a simple pinwheel may also ease pain by going to

Now coming up, the amazing story of how one Olympian is defying the odds and proving that age is just a number in your head. Stay with us.


GUPTA: Well, the opening ceremonies for the Olympics less than a month away. And I want to introduce you to a woman you're going to be seeing there. She is absolutely extraordinary. Somehow, she's able to beat racers that are half her age. Dara Torres, she's a 41-year- old mom, who's defying the odds and she's setting records. You're going to be left wondering how she's able to do this.

Watch her story.


GUPTA (voice-over): Dara Torres is set to become the oldest female Olympic swimmer ever.

JOEL STAGER, INDIANA UNIVERSITY: She's a 41-year-old female that's right now the best in the United States.

DARA TORRES, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: Doesn't really matter how old you are. If I'm the fastest and I'm faster than the younger kids, then I should go.

GUPTA: In a sport where the average age of national championship competitors is just 20-years-old, Torres is shattering the odds. Exercise physiologist says she has the perfect swimmer's genes.

STAGER: Genetics does play a role. Talking about one percent or less of the population that has that genotype.

GUPTA: But good genetics aren't enough. Her training regiment is custom-tailored for her age.

TORRES: My body is a 41-year-old body. And I just can't get in the pool nine times a week. The biggest obstacle I have is recovery. It's about allowing my body to recover so I can come back the next day and perform at a high level.

GUPTA: She swims five times a week, often with her daughter looking on. Her team includes coaches, a chiropractor, masseurs, stretchers who use their feet and hands to knead her limbs. She calls resistance stretching her secret weapon. Muscles are contracted and stretched at the same time to increase flexibility and power.

STAGER: Dara is definitely working smarter. A sprinter has to be smart.

GUPTA: Which is why the 50 meter freestyle, a race that can be as quick as 25 seconds may be best suited for someone in their 40s. Longer races may be tougher with age, as endurance (INAUDIBLE).

TORRES: I'm proving that you can be 41 and you can follow your dreams and that age is just a number.


GUPTA: And coming up, do you know how much calcium your body needs? Good question, right? Find out if you're getting enough. That's on our "Ask the Doctor" segment. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: It's time for our "Ask the Doctor" segment, where we answer medical questions that are on your minds. And here's a question from one of our i-Reporters.

Diane in Illinois asks this, "I sit in front of a computer all day and by the end of the day, my neck is tired and I can barely hold up my head. Are there any exercises I can do to strengthen my neck?"

Good question, Diane. Sitting at a desk for too long can strain the neck muscles. So here's what you can do. There's some obvious things, first of all. Stretch frequently and watch your posture while at your desk. Plus, try doing these things as well. Keep your computer screen at eye level. Make sure you really look for that. And use the arm rests on your chair as well. Also, if you can afford this, get a headset instead of tucking that phone between your neck and your ear.

And finally, take a break from time to time. Get up, move around, try and get the blood circulating. Hope that helps. Don't work too hard. It's another piece of advice.

Now here's a question for our roving camera.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm in my early 30s and I was wondering how early should I be worried about bone health?


GUPTA: Well, taking care of your bones is crucial at every age. There are really two things to remember. Calcium and weight bearing exercise. Now a good source of calcium include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, and nuts.

And keep in mind, we need different amounts of calcium as we age. The CDC recommends roughly 1300 milligrams a day for teens, 1000 milligrams a day from the 20s and 40s. You can take it easy a little bit there. And back up to about 1200 milligrams a day starting in your 50s. Hope that helps as well.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, download the podcast at Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.