It is a windy March day in Las Vegas, but I no longer have long hair, because I just got a hair-cut; furthermore, my clothes are clean and pressed, and my beard is short and trimmed. Actually, I look pretty average for a 38-year-old veteran of drug addiction. As I enter Eastgate Drug Store by the rear entrance, where the pharmacy is located, I listen to that nauseating elevator music and wait for the pharmacist with the twitching, pencil-thin mustache and bald head to approach me, then I hand him a prescription. He takes it, examines it through rimless spectacles and suspicious eyes, looks in my eyes and says, "Be about ten minutes, Sir."
With an impatient but controlled anticipation for drugs and a fictitious cough, I reply, "O.K., I'll just poke around in here until it's ready." At this point my heart is pounding, but I remain composed as I casually look over the array of vitamins displayed on a shelf; at the same time, I keep a watchful eye on the pharmacist. He can not see me as I move over to the sunglasses rack, but I can see him. Then, to my dismay, he picks up the telephone, and I exclaim to myself, "Shit!" I flee the pharmacy feeling, rage, despair, hopelessness and in dire need of drugs; however, staying in the store and taking a chance that the pharmacist was not calling to verify the scrip was out of the question. I get back in the car and say, "Let's go, Jim, the bastard picked up the telephone."
In most areas of the country, street drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, pcp and speed are readily available to anyone who wants them. In larger urban areas, prescription drugs are also available to anyone who wants them. The most common way to obtain pharmacueticals is to con doctors into prescribing them for supposed medical purposes, but if a doctor can not be persuaded to prescribe a drug of choice, there is another alternative. This is my story of that alternative:
There are two ways to obtain prescription drugs--by impersonating a physician over the phone, or by bringing in a written prescription. For the exception of the more potent schedule II drugs, most scrips can be called in. Each state is different, however; for example, California requires a triplicate prescription form for schedule II drugs; while in Nevada, a standard scrip form will suffice for all drugs, regardless of the schedule. The scheduling of drugs is a rating system for their potency and potential for abuse. In Nevada, schedule III, IV and V drugs can be called in; that is, unless laws have changed since. The schedule II drugs are the most potent and abused the most, Then schedule III and so on. The schedule II drugs consist of: narcotics (opiates), amphetamines and barbiturates.
My friend Jim and I started obtaining pharmaceutical prescriptions and calling them in. When a pharmacist receives a call from a physician ordering a controlled substance, he will inevitably ask the doctor for his DEA number, address and phone number. When Jim and I started this scam we didn't have any DEA numbers of local doctors; however, we knew the numbers started with the letter A, followed by the first letter of the doctor's last name, then followed by a six digit number--with that information we were able to call them in.
The determined drug addicts that we were, we didn't allow being arrested and jailed several times stop us, or even slow us down; it just made us more conscientious. Before our numerous arrests, we didn't take precautionary measures to avoid getting caught. For example, after Jim called in a scrip, we would wait thirty minutes or so, and then I would call back the pharmacy posing as the customer (whose name we also fabricated), inquiring whether the scrip was ready. If he said yes, I would go pick it up. That was not very smart, because on one occasion the police were waiting for me. Every time one of us was arrested, we learned from it and then started taking precautionary measures until we finally refined the scam to near perfection.
Here's the way it went: I would go to a drug-store, find a phone booth, call Jim, and tell him to wait five minutes before he called in the scrip; meanwhile, I would station myself in the pharmacy area where I could watch the pharmacist, I would wait for him to answer his phone, on which Jim would be calling in the scrip.
Pharmacist: "Rexall Drugs."
Jim: "Hello, this is Dr. Goldstein, I have a prescription for you."
Pharmacist: "O.K....," pharmacist hesitates while he gets a pad and pen. "go ahead, Doctor."
Jim: "For William Jensen--Tussionex Suspension for eight ounces--one teaspoon every four to six hours for cough--no refills."
Pharmacist: "Your DEA number, Doctor?"
Jim: "AG836572." "
Pharmacist: "Your address and phone number, please?"
Jim: "1904 S. Decatur Boulevard--555-1212."
Pharmacist: "Will that be all today, Dr. Goldstein?"
Jim: "Yes, Sir, that'll do it. Thank-you."
After observing this conversation, I would watch the pharmacist do one of two things: if he picked up the phone and made a call, I would assume he was calling the doctor to verify the scrip; therefore, I would return to the phone booth, call Jim, and tell him that it did not work. He would direct me to another pharmacy where the process would be repeated. If the pharmacist proceeded to fill the scrip, I would watch him for a while (to make sure he wasn't going to call and verify it,) then I would return to Jim's location.
Half an hour later I would call the pharmacy posing as the customer inquiring about the scrip. If the pharmacist gave no verbal or psychological indication that he was suspicious and said that it was ready, then Jim or I would drive to the pharmacy to pick it up. While sitting in the parking lot in his white 1960 Dodge Seneca, Jim reaches a nervous hand into his pocket, withdrew a coin, flipped it and said, "Call it."
"Heads." I replied.
Jim gets out of the car and proceeds towards the pharmacy as I wait in the car. After about five minutes I start wondering if he's getting busted, or just waiting for other prescriptions to be filled. What's in my mind as I wait for Jim is, to say the least, somewhat frightening: God-damn it! I knew we shouldn't have come here. What if he's getting busted? Then I've gotta call his wife again, and if she hasn't got the money to bail him out, I'll have to come up with it. Shit! If the cops pull up and see me sittin here, I'll go to jail, too--then who's going to get me out? My wife and daughter will leave, and then what'll I do? God, I hate that fuckin jail. I hate sitting out here, too. I think I'd rather be scared in there, than scared out here wondering if he's getting busted or not. Shit! I really wish he would hurry up.
Finally! Jim comes walking out of the drug store with a cocky smirk on his face, and suddenly I feel high, I haven't even consumed any of the drugs yet. After a while we implemented more precautions and devised other methods of operation to simplify and increase the drug flow. We also made doctor's appointments for a couple reasons: to try to con the doctor into writing scrips for what we wanted, and for obtaining additional scrips for unwanted drugs like antibiotics, antihistamines, and other non-narcotic medications. The reason for saving the unfilled scrips was so we would have DEA numbers and signatures; not to mention samples of written prescriptions that we could learn from in the event we came upon any blank scrip pads.
Every year I bought a Physician's Desk Reference (PDR), and I became very knowledgeable of it's contents about prescription drugs. Our drug of choice was Tussionex, a bronchitis preparation containing a potent narcotic opiate called hydrocodone. There are several hydrocodone cough preparations, but Tussionex was our choice; furthermore, it was a schedule III drug that could be called in. With my life being that of a drug addict I had experimented with most all of the drugs, I found that opiates offered the best high--much like that of heroin, which is an opiate. Hydrocodone cough preparations, such as Tussionex, offered the best high (in our opinion) among the pharmacueticals available.
One beautiful summer day I was at home doing yard work, when a late model van pulled up. I watched the tall, pot-bellied, ruddy-faced man get out, then I suddenly realized it was one of my old friends from Arizona at the time. Terry was the one who turned me on to the hydrocodone cough preparations when he came home from Viet Nam. We greeted each other with a hug, and I invited him in. Within five minutes of our conversation he asked if I knew where we might get an Arizona scrip filled. Why? I asked.
"Because I've got a "whole" pad of blank scrips." Terry said with a pompous grin as he waved them at me.
"Yeah, Buddy," I said excitedly, "let me see that scrip pad." then I wrote: Tussionex suspension--8 ounces--Sig: Take as directed. Sometimes physicians write scrips in this manner, because if a doctor told his patient how to take the medication, there would be no sense in writing out the directions. And that was the beginning of the trial-and-error process of the written stage of our scam.
It wasn't until we used up most of the Arizona scrips that we noticed the poor quality of printing. This set us to thinking. We figured if out-of-state scrips with such poor quality printing were this easy to fill, then surely we could come up with something equally passable. So, we drew up a format that we took to a one of Las Vegas's Quik-Printing shops. There was nothing on this format that indicated it was to be a doctor's prescription. There was no name at the top, and the number on the bottom could have been taken for anything.
We went to a business supply store and purchased a rubber stamp kit. At the top of this format, above the double line, we stamped in a physician's name. We used these scrips successfully for quite some time, periodically changing the stamp to a different doctor's name.
One day when I was visiting at a friend's house in North Las Vegas, I was introduced to a man who could have passed for someone from an old 1940's Peter Lorre movie. He was about 35, skinny, short hair, and a short, almost Hitler-type mustache, and with a face that looked like a mouse. I reserved judgment of the man and made small talk with my friend Lindsay, and his weird looking friend, Lester--who reminded me of Igor. Fortunately, Igor turned out to be a printer. He was employed locally, and had keys to the print shop where he worked. Not that I couldn't tell by looking, but he let it be known that he also had more than just a passing interest in drugs, so we made a deal. All he wanted for his trouble was some of the drugs we obtained from the scrips he printed for us. By this time we had quite a variety of unfilled scrips accumulated: two hospital scrips, two dentist's, six doctor's, and a couple specialists--a total of twelve.
A couple nights later, on Igor's day off, we went to Anytime Printing, his place of employment on Ogden street in the sleazy back-streets of downtown Las Vegas, and there we witnessed a very fascinating procedure: with a tiny brush, Igor, with his nose wrinkling periodically, painted a white substance over the doctor's writing on the unfilled scrips. This was very time consuming and meticulous work, for he had to leave all the printed lines in tact where the doctor's writing had overlapped. With the plates he made by taking pictures of the scrips, he fed them into a printing press, applied ink, and started printing. An hour later we had literally thousands of blank scrips.
The criminal justice system was also a trial and error process, because after a while we discovered that convictions on these type of charges was a hard thing for a prosecutor to accomplish. During the eight and a half years that I wrote prescriptions, I was arrested five times. One of my cases was dismissed because the pharmacist could not positively identify me. At the time I wore a full beard, and when I showed up for court, I brought two of my friends who also wore full beards. The resemblance between us was remarkable.
Drug alerts put a damper on our scam. When pharmacist's became aware of a counterfeit scrip, they had the option of either calling the police or alerting another pharmacy, which in turn, would alert another pharmacy, and that pharmacy would alert yet another pharmacy, and so on until the entire city of pharmacies had been alerted. It got to the point where most pharmacist's preferred handling the problem with just a phone call, rather than having to sacrifice valuable time in the court process.
After years of running scrips, Jim and I couldn't show our faces in a pharmacy without the police being called on us. We had gotten so many people, including ourselves, arrested, that nobody wanted to involve themselves with us anymore. Finally we turned to the methadone program, which is, by far, worse, and another completely different horror story.
I would like to add that pharmaceutical drugs are a better choice of abuse than street drugs; however, the price paid in obtaining them are a lot more demanding; therefore, if one is interested in the game of cat and mouse with the police and a city full of pharmacists, not to mention sweating bullets every time your partner goes in after a scrip, then by all means try this mode of addiction; that is if you appreciate periodic stays in jail, being pursued by the police continually, and constantly striving to obtain enough drugs to keep you going all day and still have enough for a wake up dose the following morning. All the elements of a conventional drug addict--only done in a different way.
* * * *
I was both a chronic alcoholic and hard-core drug addict for thirty-three years. I started drinking alcohol on a weekend basis when I was 11 years old, and by the time I was 15 I was a full blown alcoholic. After I graduated from high school I started experimenting with drugs; thereby initiating my cross dependency on more chemicals.
I have been in and out of jails all my life; however, at 43 years old, when I finally made it to the state prison system, I came to the conclusion that my life was meaningless. Fortunately, the California Department of Corrections (CDC), started an educational substance abuse program at the institution where I was incarcerated. It was a live-in, dormitory situation which held classes five days a week. It was a very eye opening experience. I began my recovery there, which is a life-long process.
Since my release from prison I have acquired an Associate in Arts degree (magna cum laude), and I am half way through my bachelors program in psychology with over a 3.5 grade point average. I intend on acquiring a Ph.D. in psychology. Today I have a lot to live for; however, if it wasn't for my sobriety I wouldn't have anything.
Books by John E. Smethers, Ph.D