SAN DIEGO — An elderly American cancer patient who says he traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to buy Valium to relieve his pain has been arrested and jailed on suspicion of drug smuggling.
George Paul Murl, 81, of Oxnard was being held Friday in a state penitentiary in Tijuana after he was arrested outside a pharmacy with 600 Valium pills, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.
Murl was arrested on May 24 because he did not have a legitimate prescription for the pills, said Lorenzo Garibay, a spokesman for the Tijuana police department.
Police turned the case over to federal prosecutors, which is standard in drug cases, Garibay said.
“If you have a prescription it’s no problem,” he said. “If not, you can be arrested as a drug trafficker.”
But an American minister who has visited Murl in prison said the elderly man did have a prescription and has been buying Valium in Tijuana for several years because it is cheaper than in the United States.
The minister, David Walden of San Diego, said Murl has prostate cancer and should be released from prison on humanitarian grounds.
“He’s sick. He needs medical attention,” said Walden, who has carried food and other supplies to American prisoners in the Tijuana penitentiary for six years.
Tijuana’s many pharmacies have long attracted U.S. consumers with lower prices. But arrests for illegally buying certain drugs are fairly common.
Walden said several of the 48 U.S. citizens currently at the penitentiary were arrested on similar offenses but Murl is the oldest by far.
Murl, a World War II veteran, was told that he faces up to five years in prison if convicted, Walden said.
A representative of the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana has visited Murl and found him in “good condition given the circumstances,” said consular spokesman Clint Wright.
“In view of his age and health condition, we’re encouraging Mexican authorities to expedite the case,” Wright said.