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Authorities said Wednesday they have shattered Internet rings that illegally peddled drugs worldwide to tens of thousands of people, turning the Web into a drug pipeline for teenagers and abusers. Officials announced the arrest of 20 people in eight U.S. cities and at least two other countries over the last two days and described the operation as a major blow to rogue online pharmacies. “We’ve logged off some of the worst e-traffickers out there,” said Drug Enforcement Administrator Karen Tandy. Even so, Tandy said, the shadowy world of online sales of narcotics, amphetamines and depressants has been burgeoning. Unethical operators make little or no effort to verify the medical needs or ages of buyers. “Today is every parent’s nightmare,” Tandy said. “The Internet has become an open medicine cabinet. Strangers are peddling drugs in your home and you don’t even know it.” The illicit sales amounted to more than $6 million, officials said, adding that they are seeking the forfeiture of 41 bank accounts. Among the organizations targeted in the yearlong investigation called Operation Cyber Chase was a Philadelphia-based Internet pharmacy that allegedly smuggled prescription painkillers, steroids and amphetamines into the United States from India, Germany, Hungary and elsewhere, repackaged them and sold them throughout the world. “There is no visit to a doctor, no pharmacist to vouch for the integrity of the medication, and no prescription,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said at a press conference in Philadelphia. “All you need is a keyboard and a credit card and you’re able to order drugs like codeine, ketamine (a popular club drug) and steroids.” The organization was headed by Brij Bansal, a physician in Agar, India, and his children, including 26-year-old son Akhil Bansal, a Temple University graduate student, the indictment charged. Five Bansal family members have been charged, along with at least five Web site operators. Their organization filled orders for millions of pills placed by more than 4,500 buyers, many of whom in turn sold the drugs through at least 20 Web sites or on the streets, officials said. An Airborne Express supervisor in suburban Philadelphia prompted the investigation when he found courier envelopes full of diazepam, a generic form of Valium, being shipped by a local business that sent more than 4,300 packages in a 19-day period in February 2004, officials said. The Bansals allegedly obtained the drugs in India and sent them to the United States, where they were redistributed. Authorities are still trying to determine where the drugs were made, but Meehan said many were likely made by legitimate pharmaceutical companies. Drugs to aid sexual dysfunction were among the most popular in the scheme, Meehan said. Tandy and officials from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, Food and Drug Administration and the Postal Service provided details of the investigation and its findings at a news conference in Washington. U.S. arrests took place in Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota, Fla.; Abilene and Tyler, Texas; New York City and Rochester, N.Y.; Philadelphia; and Greenville, S.C. Authorities also made arrests in Costa Rica and India. Tandy said the arrests represent only “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of how many illegal pharmaceutical groups are selling drugs over the Internet. She said there are currently about 12 legitimate online pharmaceutical companies. Legitimate sellers require customers to send in a prescription from a doctor they’ve seen. AP writer Maryclaire Dale contributed to this story from Philadelphia. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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