Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Secretary Fernando Grillo today announced a suit has been filed against a Florida-based online pharmacy that illegally prescribed the powerful painkiller Vicodin to an employee in Madigan's office posing as a consumer who had injured his back after slipping on ice.
Despite the potentially harmful side effects of Vicodin, the company provided a prescription for the generic form of the drug without a medical exam of the “patient” and made no effort to verify the “medical history” Madigan's employee provided to the company.
Madigan and Grillo's suit, filed Monday, August 2, in Sangamon County Circuit Court, names as defendants Datamark Human Resources, Inc., d/b/a 1stMeds.com, a Texas corporation not authorized to do business in Illinois; Haywood Hullender, individually and as President and Director of Datamark Human Resources, Inc., d/b/a 1stMeds.com; Terry Hill, individually and d/b/a 1stMeds.com; and Rudolph E. Branch, M.D., individually.
1stMeds.com's Web site lists more than 70 ailments its doctors allege they can treat, ranging from cancer to cerebral palsy to hiccups. They also tout more than 20 pain medications they will prescribe, including Vicodin and Valium. Madigan noted that while Internet prescription drug sites continue to multiply and fill e-mail inboxes, it is against Illinois law for a doctor not licensed in Illinois to prescribe medications to an Illinois consumer.
“A computer is not a doctor and the internet is not a medical office. Patients should not bypass a physical exam before receiving powerful – and potentially harmful – drugs through a Web site,” Madigan said. “If a doctor wants to treat patients in Illinois, he or she must be licensed in Illinois.”
The defendants are charged with violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act for failing to disclose that they are not licensed as physicians in Illinois and thus cannot prescribe medications to Illinoisans; representing, either directly or by implication, that it is lawful for doctors not licensed in Illinois to prescribe drugs to Illinoisans; requiring consumers, in advance, to waive any and all liability; and selling and prescribing prescription drugs and/or shipping and delivering such drugs in Illinois or to Illinois residents without a physical examination.
The defendants are charged with violations of the Illinois Medical Practice Act for requiring Illinois residents to sign a waiver of liability; diagnosing, prescribing and treating Illinois residents without being licensed in Illinois; and practicing medicine in Illinois via electronic or other means of communication without being licensed.
Madigan's employee bought the generic Vicodin after visiting the 1stMeds.com Web site and following a few simple steps, including filling out an order form and providing credit card information. The “patient” employee received a call the next day. The caller identified himself as a doctor with 1stMeds. The employee said that he had slipped on ice last winter but that a subsequent x-ray by his doctor had shown no damage. The caller asked Madigan's employee if he had ever taken Vicodin. Madigan's employee said he had taken a sample from a friend and it helped relieve the pain in his back.
Based solely on that discussion and an online, unverified questionnaire, the 1stMeds.com doctor wrote a prescription for 90 generic Vicodin ES pills to the Madigan employee. The package arrived promptly at the Attorney General's Springfield office.
“Ordering narcotic painkillers should be more difficult than ordering pizza or carry out,” Madigan said. “Consumers may think they are making their lives more convenient, but in fact, they may be putting their lives at risk by ordering prescriptions from someone who does not know them or their medical history.”
Madigan and Grillo seek to permanently bar Datamark from advertising, marketing, selling, offering for sale, prescribing and issuing prescription medications in Illinois. Additionally, the lawsuit seeks penalties of up to $50,000 per violation. Assistant Attorney General Cassandra Karimi is handling the case for Madigan's Consumer Fraud Division.
While consumers should be wary of online pharmacies that offer shipment of medications without an in-person medical examination by a physician licensed in Illinois, legitimate online pharmacies do exist. Legitimate pharmacies serving Illinois consumers must be licensed in Illinois and may offer various online conveniences such as drug information, status of prescriptions and online renewals after a consumer has received a prescription from his or her doctor.
Before using an online pharmacy, consumers can check the Illinois licensing status on the License Lookup page of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Web site at https://www.ildpr.com/licenselookup/default.asp.