Prescription Drug Addiction: New Bill Targets Rogue Online Pharmacies

Prescription Drug Addiction: New Bill Targets Rogue Online Pharmacies

President Bush is set to sign off on new legislation that targets 'rogue' domestic Internet pharmacies, following years of concern among public-health and law enforcement officials who deal with escalating prescription drug addiction and abuse, especially among younger Americans.

Online pharmacies exist that allow almost anyone to buy controlled drugs with just a few mouse clicks and a credit card, without ever seeing a doctor or getting a valid prescription. Long aware that such web sites are helping fuel prescription drug addiction across the country, state and federal law enforcement has already busted many of them and fined and jailed dozens of serious offenders.

But hundreds of such sites from around the world still exist on the Internet. The new legislation, approved by Congress last month, will at least boost control of U.S.-based operations, making it harder to get drugs without prescriptions. The new law will prohibit online pharmacies from selling meds to anyone without a valid prescription from a doctor who has examined the purchaser, in person, at least once.

The legislation will have little effect on legal online pharmacies, such as Drugstore.com, Walgreen and CVS, that already ensure that customers have valid prescriptions. Such outlets are not considered a major factor in prescription drug addiction and abuse. Most prescription drugs obtained illicitly on the Internet are from the so-called rogue pharmacies.

Many developed nations are also working on the problem, but prescription drug addiction is not as big a problem around the world as it is in the US. Controlling rogue pharmacies has proven difficult in less developed countries where laws are weak and law enforcement is less effective, less determined, or even corrupt.

The new law is intended to strengthen the government's ability to enforce existing statutes and clarify how they apply to the Internet. “This is really making explicit what has been implicit,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D, Cal), the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate. “We've tried to close this loophole by essentially addressing this problem of controlled substances being sold without any medical oversight or prescription.”

The bill does not address non-controlled prescription drugs like Viagra, Propecia, Celebrex and Soma, that are also popular on rogue sites. But these drugs, although they can be dangerous in the wrong hands, are not considered factors in prescription drug addiction and abuse.

And the bill does not address the roles played by Internet search engines, credit-card companies, or package-delivery services in the illicit online drug operations. A tougher, more effective law would certainly need to take a closer look at all those players — and also at Big Pharma. Many rogue pharmacies do sell the real thing — not counterfeit drugs — and a truly effective attack on illicit online drug operations would have to include a long hard look at the supply chain, and at the ultimate supplier.

It may be late arriving and a little less than it could be, but the new legislation does hold the potential to help reduce prescription drug addiction and abuse, and thereby reduce the number of Americans of all ages and walks of life who need medical drug detox to recover their lives.

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