STREET SELLER: A peddler for the Discount Pharmacy store inNogales, Mexico, do the efforts to sell the muscle relaxant Soma.

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May 9, 2004

NOGALES, Mexico - Here, just throughout the border, neon-coloredsigns in the windows of dozens of pharmacies scream "Soma forsale."

Salesmen in white lab coats fight for company on the sidewalksand will conveniently fill order for number of thousand the the musclerelaxant pills.


"About 60 percent the the civilization who purchase Soma space the youngerpeople," stated Israel Sandoval, a manager in ~ Con Vida pharmacy.

Pharmacy workers said they to fill Soma orders several times a weekfor American teenagers, a tendency that has been walk on foryears.

But the Soma pipeline native Mexico has actually been mainly hush-hush inthe eastern Valley until police damaged up a pair of Soma drug ringsrecently at local high schools.

A 16-year-old Gilbert girl was arrested critical month and also latercharged through two drug-related crimes, and also seven various other teens couldface comparable charges after ~ Soma was found at five Mesa and Gilbertschools. Twenty-nine Gilbert students to be suspended in in march forbuying, own or marketing the drug on campus.

As the prescription drug trend has come to the forefront,Mexican officials to speak they are cracking under on pharmacies thatsell the drug without authorized prescriptions, if U.S. DrugEnforcement management officials plan to propose placing thedrug under federal control.

AN easy BUY

Soma, or carisoprodol, is a muscle relaxant that needs aprescription in Arizona. In Mexico, the is marketed under the nameSomacid, a much less expensive brand made in Guadalajara.

Last month, the Mexican federal Secretariat of health sent aletter to Nogales pharmacies warning the Soma was a controlledsubstance and was illegal to sell without a prescription native anAmerican or mexico doctor, pharmacy employee said.

But Dr. Jaime Leon, an main with the Secretariat the Healthin Hermosillo, Mexico, can not confirm if Soma has actually beenofficially reclassified under the country’s basic Health Law.

"Unfortunately, a revision would still make it tough to control,"Leon said. "It would still be marketed freely."

And that’s apparent. Many pharmacies continue to offer the drugwith no questions asked.

A Tribune reporter conveniently purchased 100 Somacid pills for $30without a prescription from Nogales Pharmacy earlier this month.But at other pharmacies, a prescription was important when thereporter figured out herself together such. A prescription, however, canbe conveniently purchased native pharmacies or neighborhood doctors.

"I can write a prescription for $20 extra," offered one salesmanfrom Discount Pharmacy, the city’s largest pharmacy chain. "It willsay your name and take when a work or when an hour, every little thing youwant."


BRINGING the HOME

Soma is not only easy to purchase in mexican pharmacies, but itis legal come bring across the border in small amounts there is no aprescription.

All prescription drugs from Mexico require a prescriptionfrom one American doctor, claimed Joyce Jarvis, a supervisor v theU.S. Customs and also Border Protection.

But the customs firm and DEA allow travelers to bring back upto 50 pills per person of any FDA-approved medicine from Mexicowithout a prescription, federal officials said. The DEA considersthat to be a reasonable lot of pills for legit personalmedical use.

The pills have to be claimed to personalizeds officials, or officialscan grab the drug and also fine violators the domestic value of themedication.

"We space seeing in recent years the regulations being exploitedby some people bringing the drugs into the U.S. For illicit use,"said Ramona Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the DEA in Phoenix.

The concern has motivated DEA officials come look at making Soma afederally controlled substance, which would place enforcementduties through the DEA rather of local police. A commonwealth jurisdictionwould mean harsher sentences for Soma buyers, distributors andtraffickers.

Sanchez said the DEA is beginning the procedure by gatheringinformation on Soma because that a report come be gift to the Departmentof Health and also Human solutions to reclassify the drug.

"When us see teenagers abusing a drug favor this, you deserve to bet the willslowly creep right into our radar. We take it an extremely seriously," Sanchezsaid. "Hopefully it will prompt mexico authorities the theproblem is filtering in through the U.S."

Soma (carisoprodol)

• Soma is a prescription muscle relaxant produced in theUnited States.

• Alcohol-like effects include wooziness, drowsiness andgiddiness.

• Abuse that the drug can result in addiction, seizures, coma ordeath.

• Somacid is a mexican brand manufactured in Guadalajara.

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• In Mexico, Soma expenses $30 come $35 and Somacid prices $18 to $30for two 50-pill bottles.