Rogue Pharmacy Crackdown Expected to Become Law--October 2008

Congress approves legislation to stop controlled substances from being sold online without a valid prescription.

Both the House and the Senate have now passed legislation to crack down on illegal Internet pharmacies, and President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law.

The legislation targets those rogue online pharmacies that sell controlled substances without a valid prescription but still protects patients’ ability to fill legitimate prescriptions online. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores worked closely with the bill’s sponsors to ensure that it drew a clear distinction between the treatment of rogue Web sites and legitimate, state-licensed pharmacies, many of which have an associated and branded Web site.

Illegal online sites lure individuals into schemes to obtain prescription drugs without a prescription or a valid patient—provider relationship. Often these sites sell unapproved, counterfeit, mislabeled, or adulterated drug products. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has identified 365 Web sites advertising or selling controlled substances online, of which 85% do not require a prescription by a patient’s physician. HR 6353—the “Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008”—is named after a California high school student who died in 2001 from an overdose of a prescription painkiller he obtained through the Internet.

The new law amends the Controlled Substances Act to bar the sale or distribution of a controlled substance via the Internet without a valid prescription. A practitioner must conduct an in-person examination of a patient in order for a prescription to be considered valid. It also requires online pharmacies to display information identifying the business, the pharmacist, and any physician associated with the Web site. Other provisions include stiff penalties for pharmacies that continue to operate outside the law, and authority for state attorneys general, who—after notifying the US Department of Justice—can shut down a rogue site across the country, rather than stopping sales only to individuals in his or her state.

For other articles in this issue, see:

Kids’ OTC Cough, Cold Meds to Get New Labels

Survey Finds Patients Wary of Rx Switches

PDPs for Low-Income Beneficiaries Decreasing in ’09