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Cocaine and roses: DEA records yield combustible stories

Cocaine and roses: DEA records yield combustible stories

Picture of William Heisel

A doctor who can't prescribe drugs is like a fish that can't swim. It's usually a sign that something is wrong.

That's why Jim Sheehan, the New York state inspector general for Medicaid, pays attention to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's actions. He spoke today at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Seattle and highlighted what a great source the DEA registrant actions can be to find out where the legal prescription and sale of drugs morphs into the illegal use and abuse of drugs. The DEA goes after doctors, dentists, pharmacies and even convenience stores that dispense drugs. And their action reports provide details not just about what the DEA found but what the courts that have been brought into the DEA's actions found, too.

It also provides reporters with some great seeds for stories.

In 2005, the DEA told Gregg & Son Distributors of Powell, Tennessee, which owned a convenience store chain, that it intended to prevent the company from selling products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

The agency's show cause order alleged that "these retailers are a primary source for the diversion of these products into the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine, a schedule II controlled substance." It also alleged the stores were selling "products that are not sold in traditional retail outlets, including over one dozen ephedrine products and various pseudoephedrine products."

And the store was selling something a little less obvious, a little glass vial containing a small rose and branded "lovers' roses." A cheap make-up gift after a marital quarrel?

How about a crack pipe? The DEA says these vials "are considered drug paraphernalia because the vials are used to smoke methamphetamine and cocaine." And the company's owner, Dennis Gregg, "acknowledged that he was aware of the illicit use of 'lovers' roses.'"

Nearly every news outlet has a corner of their coverage area with a drug problem. Here's one way to find out why. Use some of these DEA reports as text books for you to do your own investigation. Find a store or a pharmacy that has gotten into trouble in the past and go in and find out what they are selling now. If a company has been prevented from selling ephedrine products, for example, or rose-filled crack pipes, go and find out where those products are being sold elsewhere. It's likely just around the corner.

The DEA ultimately put the company on probation, essentially, as of this month. The agency suspended the company's license to sell drugs but then stayed that suspension for three years on the condition that the company follow the law.

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