ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- People are taking advantage of the hype over the drug hydroxychloroquine and the conversations about it in regards to COVID-19 to the point some are selling it on the dark web for a lot of cash.
The FDA has issued an emergency authorization for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 even as the agency cautioned last week against prescribing it to COVID-19 patients outside of hospital settings or clinical trials.
News 4 Investigates Chris Nagus discovered people are going to unusual lengths to get their hands on the drug. It is a fact that there is no known cure for COVID-19 and a vaccine may still be a year away.
But a drug used to treat malaria and lupus may offer some hope for victims of this pandemic. President Donald Trump says, "we have purchased and we have stockpiled 29-million pills."
Trump has been touting hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment for weeks, even recommending people take is a preventative measure. But that has created a run on the market.
Ira Katz, pharmacist from CNN, says, "I'm getting electronic prescriptions from all over the country from doctors. From doctors I don't know for patients I don't know."
Pharmacists say they are running low which could endanger patients who need the drug. Now, investigators with the website Elliptic have found that drug gangs put hydroxychloroquine for sale on the dark web.
One website offers 150 pills for $500.
"The dark net is a scary place I believe where criminals are establishing a foothold," Richard Weber said. He's the chief of criminal investigation at the IRS.
A 2016 report from the IRS highlighted social security numbers for sale on the online black market. But now there is a surge of drug sales on the dark net.
Last year the DEA shut down an illegal drug network that used the dark web to sell to a million customers.
New research has found that some of the drug vendors who normally sell cocaine and fentanyl, are adding hydroxychloroquine to their lineup
Colburn says, "when people want something that they can't get through normal channels or let's say you have to have a prescription or maybe it's just not available in your area. When they see those opportunities they're going to jump all over it."
But aside from illegal nature of buying the drug this way, experts say there is also a big danger in using hydroxychloroquine without a doctor's supervision.
"This is a prescription drug by definition and it's a dangerous drug ... There are adverse effects and side effects," Katz said.
And don't think dark web drug traffickers aren't happening close to home.
Earlier this year, Melissa Scanlan, known as drug llama, was sentenced in federal court in southern Illinois to 13 years in prison for trafficking fentanyl through the dark web.