Authorities warn Mexican drug cartels are turning their efforts to prescription painkillers.
Federal authorities say a large number of traditional drug cartels in Mexico are now dealing in pharmaceutical drug trafficking, honing in on the lucrative business of selling highly addictive painkillers across the border.
According to U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, federal investigators discovered elaborate Pharma-Cartels have operated numerous websites selling pills to thousands of clients who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a month for highly addictive painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin.
In recent years, federal agents and prosecutors in San Diego have targeted numerous associates of Mexico-based Pharma-Cartels and associates involved in U.S.-based trafficking operations.
The U.S. Attorney's office has prosecuted more than 25 suspected traffickers from Mexico and the U.S. since 2009 including web masters running the pill websites, pharmacy workers, couriers and a doctor.
Duffy said pharmaceutical trafficking is a disturbing trend and those running the cartels know what they're doing.
"Prescription drugs are diverted from the U.S. market from clinics, from doctor's offices, from hospitals to Mexico," explained Duffy.
The Pharma-Cartels then create pharmacy websites where orders are taken and pills are smuggled back into the U.S. for shipping.
Perhaps even more dangerous, Duffy said, is the fact that some cartels are also creating their own versions of painkillers and not using laboratories to do so.
"They're in run down, hole in the wall apartments in very unsanitary conditions," Duffy added.
Due to the online involvement of Pharma-Cartels, federal authorities are warning parents to keep track of their kids' internet activity. Duffy said prescription drug abuse by adolescents and teens is widely reported across the country.
In an effort to raise awareness on the Pharma-Cartels trend, Duffy has joined The Partnership at Drugfree.org in The Medicine Abuse Project, which specifically focuses on preventing teens from abusing prescription pills.
Mother Sherrie Rubin has also joined forces with the U.S. Attorney's office.
She can vouch first-hand for the life-altering effects of prescription painkillers and the dangers of Pharma-Cartels.
Rubin's son, Aaron, overdosed on OxyContin in 2005, changing his life forever.
"He is a quadriplegic. He can't speak; he needs 24-hour care," said Rubin.
Rubin said her son was once a healthy and athletic young man, until he began buying and taking addictive painkillers.
"He actually purchased the Oxy he had from a pharmacy in Tijuana," said Rubin.
In San Diego County, authorities report that prescription drugs are the number one cause of accidental death. The number of people who have died from prescription abuse has gone up by 26 percent in the past five years.
Keeping this fact in mind, Rubin considers her son lucky and strives to raise awareness on the dangers of painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.
"They are deadly weapons and they alter your brain so quickly that you will become an addict," warned Rubin.
From her end, Duffy aims to find and prosecute Pharma-Cartel traffickers just as swiftly as other drug traffickers.
"We are going after the medicine pushers with the same passion we have shown for dismantling the ruthless cartels that deal in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine," said Duffy. "To me, there is no difference between them. Lives are being lost."