Fake prescriptions popping up in LaGrange
By Melanie Ruberti
When LaGrange Police Sgt. Mark Cavender interrogated Ayeesha Rashadeen, 19, for allegedly forging a prescription slip inside a local pharmacy this week, her explanation for the illegal activity was one he had heard many times before.
Cavender is the head of LPD’s Special Investigation Unit. The team tackles area gang issues – and takes illegal narcotics off the streets of LaGrange.
Cavender said Rashadeen and three unidentified men, all from Atlanta, used an old scheme but hit new locations. He said the group manufactured fake prescription slips and went to collect their bounty Sunday.
“That’s all this group does,” Cavender said. “They travel up and down the Interstate 85 corridor with the fake prescriptions and drop them off at various pharmacies. When Rashadeen handed the prescription to the pharmacist at Walgreens (Vernon Street) on Sunday, she became suspicious because it was from a doctor located several counties away, so they (the pharmacist) contacted the doctor’s office and verified it was a fictitious form.”
The group, and others like them, are not trying to turn a profit off the prescription drugs themselves, Cavender said. Instead they use a mixture of promethazine, an anti-nausea drug, and codeine, a cough suppressant, to create the popular concoction called, “Lean.” The drink also goes by the street names “Dirty Sprite,” “Sizzurp,” among others.
The prescription pills are mixed with soda and sometimes candy such as Jolly Ranchers, to offset the taste of codeine, Cavender said.
The concoction was glamorized by the music industry, he said.
“It’s (Sizzurp) supposed to give you a relaxed and euphoric feeling, but it will make you sleepy and you may overdose,” the sergeant said. “It makes you really ‘out of it.’ It’s like any other drug… we heard about it for a while and then bam – it was everywhere.”
Cavender estimated the SIU team has worked 25 – 30 cases that involved forged prescription slips in order to make the “Dirty Sprite” over the past three years.
“I’ll arrest them (suspects), get their phones, and they’ll have every CVS, Walgreens and ‘mom and pop’ pharmacy pinpointed on their GPS. It’s become such a lucrative business to sell the dirty Sprite,” he said.
The illegal bartenders then sell their drink on the streets or in night clubs. The going rate ranges from $10 – $20 per cup to $110 – $200 for a 16-ounce bottle, Cavender said.
But make no mistake – the drink is illegal and highly dangerous.
“What folks don’t realize with promethazine and codeine is that they’re both suppressants,” Cavender said. “Both drugs slow down your respiratory, nervous and circulatory systems. These people are drinking a whole bottle of it at once. They could overdose – or die.”
Fortunately, many pharmacists are educated on “Sizzurp” and the fake prescription scheme.
“The local pharmacies won’t even fool with someone (customer) from out of town,” Cavender said. “The bigger chain pharmacies have a network in place, and they will call other stores in town to warn them. The techs usually call the doctor’s office and make sure the prescription is legitimate.”
That verification was done by the Walgreen’s pharmacist, Cavender said. Once he or she confirmed the prescription was fake, the employee called 911.
Meanwhile, Rashadeen and the three suspects moved on to deliver more forged prescription slips to other local stores, Cavender said. He said when she returned to Walgreens to pick up her “prescription,” LaGrange police officers were waiting for her.
Her three accomplices left the scene – and left Rashadeen to take the rap, Cavender said. The woman allegedly confessed to Cavender she knew the prescription slips were fake. Cavender said the group also hit the CVS on Morgan Street, the Neighborhood Walmart on Lafayette Parkway and Kroger at Commerce Avenue, Cavender said.
Rashadeen was charged with three counts of forgery in the first degree, two counts of criminal attempt to possess a scheduled narcotic and one count of possession of scheduled narcotic. More arrests are pending.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.