The Victims

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


As a former triathlete, Lewis, 47, had lots of aches and pains. He also suffered from anxiety. He turned to Internet pharmacies in South Africa, Thailand and Spain to buy painkillers. Unmarked packages containing Darvon, codeine, Largactil, Alprazolam and Valium arrived at the Sacramento home he shared with his wife, Elizabeth Carr. "He knew his way around the computer," Carr said. "He thought he could be his own doctor and now he's dead because of it." She found her husband dead of an overdose on the living room couch in April. An autopsy identified excessive amounts of Darvon in his bloodstream, she said. "The thing that is so scary is that five packages came to my house after he died. I didn't sign anything. They just arrived."


On the morning of Sept. 15, 2001, Townsend took his 7-month-old son, Carter, for a ride around his parents' 138-acre farm in Aiken, S.C. "He loved that farm," said his mother, Sue R. Townsend, the Aiken County coroner. "He learned to ride horses there." Later that day, Doug, 30, attended a wedding, where, according to his mother, he had at most two drinks. Driving back to the farm about 8 p.m., he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a fence, dying instantly. Investigators found a prescription bottle containing Alprazolam (generic Xanax), and an autopsy later confirmed the drug was in his system. Townsend had purchased the drug from a now-defunct Web site in Mesa, Ariz. The site, its owners, the prescribing doctor and the pharmacy reached a settlement with Sue Townsend in which they denied wrongdoing. "All I have left is memories of Doug," she said. "I don't want anyone else to go through what we went through."


The 33-year-old mother had a history of drug abuse dating to college, said her sister, Beth Koch. A few times family members had to drive to the university because "she had taken too much" Darvocet for migraines. More recently, she had trolled the emergency rooms of hospitals near her home in upstate New York and turned to the Internet to obtain the painkiller Soma and other drugs. After she died of an overdose of Soma and generic Darvon in July, her family discovered that she had ordered drugs from a computer at her workplace. A bank statement revealed purchases up to $500 a month from Web sites in Florida and Alabama. "We couldn't believe it," Koch said. "It's like a whole 'nother world, the Internet."


Abolins, 43, was a wonderful father, his former wife said. "He always called the kids and took them every weekend," Sue Ward recalled. Abolins, who worked with computers near Atlanta, had used painkillers on and off for years to treat pain from kidney stones. "I knew he was abusing," Ward said. "I'm a nurse. He had had problems before." On Nov. 21, 1999, Abolins's roommate found him slumped on the bedroom floor, his head between his knees. An autopsy identified traces of OxyContin and diazepam (generic Valium). Relatives also found a bottle of Tussionex, a cough suppressant containing hydrocodone, which Abolins had purchased from a Web site in Texas. There was also a package and Federal Express slip for drugs from a site in Tijuana, Mexico. The autopsy listed the cause of death as "mixed drug intoxication." There was no evidence of kidney stones.


A skilled musician and computer whiz, Rode, 38, of Chicago battled depression from the time he was a teenager, his parents said. As an adult, he had bouts of drinking and argued with his doctors over his treatments. In 1999, Rode overdosed on medications he had purchased online through a South African pharmacy. His parents described his death at a 2001 congressional hearing, where they were promised his case would be pursued. The Web site has since closed, but "at least one new pharmacy page" run by the same doctor has opened, federal agents said. "We're still waiting," said his mother, Helen, of Athens, Ga.

-- By Gilbert M. Gaul and Mary Pat Flaherty

© 2003 The Washington Post Company