Francine Haight

Testimony before the U.S. Senate
Testimony of Francine Haight, Founder of Ryan’s Cause

U.S. Senate Committee Committee on the Judiciary
May 16, 2007

Good morning. My name is Francine Haight, and thank you for inviting me to testify at this hearing about a very important topic that tugs at my heartstrings every day. Many of the speakers here today will give you statistics and numbers, but I am here to put a face to those numbers. And I am very sad that today that face is my son, Ryan Thomas Haight. Unfortunately, he was a victim of illegal sales of pharmaceuticals through the Internet. Ryan was born on December 28, 1982, and died on February 12, 2001, from an overdose of prescription drugs he had purchased on the Internet. He was only 17 when he purchased these drugs, and he was only 18 when he died.

He was an incredible boy. From the time he was little, I always believed that he would make a difference in this world. He was intelligent and excelled in school, was an A student and maintained a 4.0 or above during his years in high school. He looked forward to going to college.

He was athletic, loved the thrill of competition, played Open Junior Tennis tournaments, and went on to play varsity tennis for Grossmont High School in La Mesa, California. He loved to ski, snow ski, water ski, kneeboard, and he attempted all sports with great enthusiasm.

But Ryan also loved using the computer. He was thrilled to find out that he could chat online, that he could receive and send emails, and that he learn and talk about educational and current events. He learned to surf the Internet. It was a perfect place for him to use for his papers in school or to seek information he was curious about. He used the computer to play games, and he enjoyed trading baseball cards on eBay. But on February 12, 2001, that all stopped.

On February 12, 2001, I found Ryan in his bed, lifeless. I tried to resuscitate him, but could not bring him back. Ryan had died. And I was in shock. Just the night before, we had dinner together after he came home from working at a nearby retail store. That night I had kissed him and said good night, and he said, ‘‘I love you, Mom.’’ Those were the last words I would hear from him.

Ryan died from an overdose of the prescription drug Vicodin. He also had a small amount of Valium and morphine. And I thought, How? How did he get these drugs? After one of his friends told me that he got them on the Internet, we gave our computer to the DEA to investigate. And through their investigation, they found how Ryan had ordered the drugs. Ryan had made up a story. He had said he was 21. He said he had been in a car accident and had back pain, and he made up a doctor’s name, Dr. Thomas, which happened to be his middle name. Dr. Robert Ogle, whom Ryan never saw and was never examined by, prescribed them, and an Internet pharmacy, Clayton Fuchs of Mainstreet Pharmacy, delivered them to our home. I was in shock. I thought, How could this be possible? I am a registered nurse; Ryan’s father is a physician. We know that all controlled substances have to be accounted for. We count each and every drug that we give when we administer it to a patient. They are under lock and key. How could he get these off the Internet so easily? At a time when we were worried about our children being exposed to pornography and predators, marijuana and alcohol, we did not know that drug dealers were in our own family room.

After a long investigation and trial, Dr. Robert Ogle and Clayton Fuchs, who together made millions by their drug dealings, were prosecuted by the United States Attorney in Dallas and are now in Federal prison. I attended the sentencing of Clayton Fuchs, and although it does give me some peace that justice was served, it does not bring Ryan back. I am still shocked at the ease and availability of buying controlled substances on the Internet. I receive e-mails every day from 13-year-old children to adults that they are just overwhelmed by the problems that they see happening from drugs being sold.

Over the last few months, Ryan’s story has been told in a documentary called ‘‘Online Nightmares,’’ and it was produced by E Entertainment. It has aired about 15 times, and since then the mail that I get is just overwhelming in my mailbox. This is an ongoing problem.

After Ryan died, it took me almost 3 years to get enough strength to do what I am doing, and I started RYAN’s Cause—Reaching Youths Abusing Narcotics. And I have done a lot of news and gone out, and I just hope that it will raise awareness of this growing problem among our teens in hopes to prevent other families from suffering such a devastating loss. I am here today because I want to help fight this war against drugs and too many people are dying.

Congress needs to attempt to counter the growing trend of prescription drug abuse by passing a bill, the Ryan Haight Internet Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act or perhaps by adding Ryan’s bill as a noncontroversial amendment to the prescription drug user fee which governs FDA issues and prescription drug review and addresses the safety issue incumbent in drug sales.

I am a parent that belongs to a club that I never wanted to join. I am an ordinary person who could be your neighbor, your coworker, or member of your house of worship. But drugs took my son from me, and some days the grief is still unbearable. Drug abuse is an equal opportunity killer. It is not confined to one kind of neighborhood, one socioeconomic group, or one kind of child. Ryan was the boy next door. We need to do everything we can to protect our children. Tighter regulations on the sale of controlled substances on the Internet will not totally solve the drug problem, but I guarantee you it will help and it is a good place to start. Thank you for allowing me to speak and for listening to this very important issue. Ryan continues to make a difference. I just did not know he would be so far away.

[The prepared statement of Ms. Haight appears as a submission for the record.]

Chairman Leahy. Thank you very much, Ms. Haight. We were talking about your testimony last night at home. My wife is a registered nurse, and she is struck by what you said about having to account for all narcotics, and she remembers how careful those are checked and double-checked. You are absolutely right.

Joseph Califano is the Founding Chairman and President of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, CASA. It is an independent, nonprofit think tank affiliated with Columbia University. 

He is an adjunct professor of public health at Columbia University’s Medical School and School of Public Health and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

He has extensive experience in Government. He joined the Kennedy administration in 1961, served as general counsel of the Army and Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. From 1965 to 1969, he served as Special Assistant for Domestic Affairs to President Lyndon Johnson. From 1977 to 1979, he was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Carter administration. He is a graduate of Holy Cross and Harvard University Law School.

Mr. Califano, thank you for being here. Please go ahead.