Investigation: St. George News reporter responds to illegal opioid ad on the internet

ST. GEORGE — If you’ve been scrolling through the Utah Gun Exchange website lately, you may have come across more than just guns and ammunition.

Screenshot of an ad posted to Utah Gun Exchange on Nov. 9, 2018 | St. George News | Click to enlarge

Ads selling drugs like OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, Hydrocodone and Roxicodone, a brand name of OxyContin, have been appearing lately on Utah Gun Exchange, a popular online classified site where Utah residents can sell and purchase firearms. Some ads also referenced marijuana.

One ad that popped up on Nov. 9 was titled “Glock 9 available Oxy’s available,” and the description under the ad shared a phone number with, “Text only to place an order fast and discret(sic) delivery.” It’s unclear how long these ads were posted on the website, but they were eventually taken down.

When St. George News tried to call the number listed on the ad shown to the right, as well as a few others, it went straight to voicemail with no indication to who the seller was. A few minutes later, the following text was received:

“Hi there missed a call from this number what do you need? and what mg?”

In a text conversation with the person, St. George News was able to get to the point of him or her saying they would indeed be able to sell OxyContin, specifically 30 mg tablets.

Read more: Utah sues drug company for ‘misstatements’ about opioids

Bryan Melchior, co-owner of Utah Gun Exchange, described the people who place these ads as “unauthorized spammers,” adding that they’ve been frequently hitting the website with bogus ads.

“This is a game of cat and mouse,” Melchior told St. George News. “We update our filters, then they find a way around our filters. Then, the same cycle continues.”

Utah Gun Exchange also performs a manual human scrub every business morning, he said, to diminish any unwanted ads that its system doesn’t catch.

It isn’t the only website accessible to ads selling illegal substances, Melchior said, because sellers will post anywhere they can that’s free.

Nationwide, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began cracking down on websites illegally selling dangerous drugs.

The FDA targeted 465 websites illegally selling drugs in October, according to a statement from the agency. In most cases, drugs like opioids marketed online can contain lethal doses of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is considered more potent than morphine.

Read more: FDA approves super-potent opioid pill despite fears of abuse, overdose deaths

During its crackdown, the FDA also completed screenings at airports such as Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, for illegal drugs. Of 626 packages examined, more than 750 products were denied entry into the U.S., with some of the products purchased online from sites in Canada, United Kingdom and India.

Although the person from the ads on Utah Gun Exchange admitted to be selling opioids, it’s unclear if the situation is a scam to get personal financial information.

Melvin Patterson, of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told St. George News it’s certainly possible that it could be a scam because scammers realize most people aren’t going to report to law enforcement that they’ve been ripped off by a drug dealer. He also said the phone number listed on the ad is most likely spoofed because no drug dealer is going to give out his or her personal phone number.

“You’re going to say, ‘Well I was trying to purchase some drugs, and this guy took my personal financial information,’” Patterson said. “Who are you going to complain to?”

But if this situation weren’t a scam, Patterson said, it’s just as dangerous because it’s highly possible people are not going to receive what they paid for.

“The big risk is it could be something that’s deadly that you purchased because there’s no quality control over the products that are being sent to you or manufactured and sent to you,” he said.

Federal law prohibits buying controlled substances, such as narcotic pain relievers, sedatives, stimulants and anabolic steroids, without a valid prescription from a doctor, according to the DEA. Patterson said the repercussions are the same as if a dealer were selling on the streets.

“Obviously their criminal history would come into play, but would they be subject to being arrested or prosecuted? Absolutely.”

Both the FDA and DEA encourage reporting suspicious online pharmacies or the unlawful sale of medical products on the internet. People can submit a tip, anonymously or not, to the DEA or by calling 877-792-2873.


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