By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/16/2004 7:29:34 PM ET 2004-06-16T23:29:34

As Francine Haight and her two surviving children prepared to fly from Los Angeles to Washington on Tuesday, she shared the tragic story of her son, Ryan — a story she’ll tell a congressional subcommittee Thursday.

“He was a very special child," said Haight. "Unfortunately some of his friends talked him into buying drugs on the Internet."

Ryan Haight was 18 when he died of a drug overdose — a cocktail of painkillers, including the generic version of Vicodin that he obtained over the Internet.  “It was like buying candy out of a grocery store,” Haight added.

A new report from the U.S. General Accounting Office shows just how easy it is.  Undercover investigators purchased dozens of samples of unsafe drugs online.

The report is due to be released Thursday. NBC News obtained a copy in advance.  In it, investigators conclude that highly addictive painkillers like Vicodin are easily obtained on the Internet, often without a prescription.

In addition, many of the drugs had no instructions, no warning labels and some were counterfeit. 

“The Internet presents grave safety risks to American consumers,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.  “Consumer beware.”

Coleman, who requested the GAO investigation, says there are many legitimate prescription drug dealers on the Internet, but there are also hundreds of rogue Web sites and it’s often hard to tell the difference.

Coleman added, “That’s why we need the FDA to get in there and certify and to identify with that gold star on it, so you, as a consumer can understand this is a legitimate operation.”

Haight hopes her story will help convince Congress to give law enforcement the power it needs to weed out the bad operators and help others avoid her son’s fate. 

“(He) really was going to make a difference in this world, I thought,” Haight said.  “I just never knew he was going to be so far away when he did it.”

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