NEW YORK – The Craigslist ad was placed by a self-described "friendly NYU student." It offered "pain and anxiety relief." Just in case there was any confusion, it signed off with, "(asterisk)(asterisk)perc roxy(asterisk)(asterisk)" and a smiley face.
Narcotics investigators in New York say the cheery sales pitch for the pain medications Percocet and Roxycodone demonstrated a largely overlooked niche of a burgeoning black market for prescription drugs: Blatant dealing by students, professionals and others on the Internet.
Bridget Brennan, special narcotics prosecutor for New York City, announced 21 arrests on Thursday resulting from an undercover operation aimed at making an example out of some of the sellers.
The illegal sales were small-time. They exchanges typically involved a handful of pills for a few hundred dollars and were made in broad daylight in public settings like bookstores, Penn Station or Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. A bank employee was accused of selling Suboxone, an addiction medication, inside the iconic MetLife building midtown Manhattan.
Some of the sellers turned out to be run-of-the mill drug dealers also peddling cocaine and heroin, police said. But many were more mainstream: The arrested included a New York University graduate student, a financial adviser and a 62-year-old woman who works as a freelance photographer.
The pills came from the sellers' own prescriptions or from raids on the medicine cabinets of relatives, friends and co-workers, authorities said. Some made a quick buck by charging up $20 a pill — even though their profiles would suggest they didn't need the money.
"I wouldn't pretend to know their motivation," Brennan said in an interview.
The arrests come as Brennan's office, the New York Police Department and law enforcement agencies around the country are battling a surge in illegal sales of highly addictive opiate-based drugs and, increasingly, ADHD drugs like Adderall — transactions that now rival the cocaine and heroin trade both in volume and as a public health hazard.
Because the drugs have legal medical uses, their recreational abuse still carries less of a stigma than illegal narcotics. After arrested, some sellers have feigned ignorance about their crimes. But investigators don't buy it.
"You'd have to be living under a rock to not know it's illegal," Brennan said.
Brennan's office reached out to San Francisco-based Craigslist earlier this week to try to get their cooperation in finding ways to discourage the Internet marketing. There was no immediate response phone and email messages left Thursday with the popular classified ads website.
The undercover narcotics investigators began answering Craigslist ads late last year. By the time they were done, they had made 63 buys for a total of over $29,400, including several thousand dollars for nonprescription drugs like Ecstasy and cocaine.
"Yellow 'perkies' pain relief 10.325 mg $10/each," one read. Another beckoned, "I got Percs 60 tabs 5 mg email ASAP and will talk about prices no LE please serious people ONLY."
The "LE" stood for law enforcement.