Feature Archive

A Cat Can Order Viagra?

Online prescriptions are easy to get. Do you know the risks?

WebMD Feature

May 1, 2000 (Washington, D.C.) -- Pietr Hitzig, MD, never listened to Alvin Chernov's heart. In fact, he never even met him, let alone checked his blood pressure or pulse. Yet in March 1997, via his Internet web site, the Maryland physician diagnosed the 25-year-old Arizona man with stress-related depression and prescribed two powerful muscle relaxants for him, as well as the diet drug combination widely known as fen-phen.

Chernov received none of the careful monitoring routinely advised for patients on these drugs and, over the ensuing months, developed a pattern of behavior so bizarre that family members complained to both Hitzig and the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners. Six months later, Chernov committed suicide with a handgun. Family members attribute his death to the wild mood swings brought on by the drugs.

Last July, Hitzig, 56, was indicted on 34 federal charges of prescribing medicine illegally between 1996 and 1998. His indictment was just one skirmish in what many law enforcement officials say could become an all-out war on drug-peddling web sites. While some sites distribute drugs both ethically and legally, the vast majority of the estimated 400 online pharmacies are mailing prescription drugs, like Viagra (for impotence) and Propecia (for hair loss), to anyone with a credit card who is willing to fill out a simple questionnaire.