Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Beyond the Neighborhood Drugstore: U.S. Regulation of Online Prescription Drug Sales by Foreign Businesses

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Beyond the Neighborhood Drugstore: U.S. Regulation of Online Prescription Drug Sales by Foreign Businesses

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Drugstore.com, cvs.com, and walgreens.com are just some of the more than 400 known e-commerce businesses that dispense prescription drugs online. (1) A study of websites maintained by pharmaceutical companies conducted in mid-1997 forecasted the huge growth in this area of e-commerce. (2) For the most part, consumers obtain their medications from these pharmaceutical websites by mailing in prescriptions to them or by having their physicians phone-in prescriptions to the service provider. (3) Cvs.com, for example, specifies on its website that it will only fill prescriptions written by a licensed physician, and that it verifies all prescriptions with the customer's doctor. (4)

Many of these legitimate online pharmacies received pharmaceutical industry approval for their adherence to United States Federal Food and Drug Administration regulations. (5) The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), which assists state licensing boards in pharmaceutical industry regulation, established the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program, which assigns a seal of approval to websites that meet NABP standards. (6) To date, several websites have been commended for their compliance under NABP and have received the seal of approval, including drugstore.com. (7) Moreover, these companies not only legitimately provide prescription medications for consumers, but they are also very lucrative businesses, with projected sales reaching $15 billion by 2004. (8)

Lurking in the shadows of these legitimate online pharmacies, however, are less-than-scrupulous websites, many based outside of the United States (9), which fill drug orders for consumers without medical prescriptions, (10) administer pharmaceuticals that do not have FDA approval, (11) provide medications that fall below the recommended dosage and potency levels, (12) and deceive consumers with the promise of miracle cures. (13) Referred to as "rogue" online pharmacies, (14) these sites greatly outnumber the legitimate online pharmacies--400 to 6 by estimates made in 2000. (15) Some internationally based web sites only require consumers to complete an order form and select a drug and quantity, (16) while others require consumers to fill out a questionnaire about their health without a medical opinion prior to the sale of the prescription drugs. (17)

Categorically, online pharmacies fall into four types:

"[1] online pharmacies that are partners with traditional brick and mortar pharmacies ... ; [2] online pharmacies that are themselves brick and mortar pharmacies ... ; [3] online pharmacies that operate solely on the Internet ... ; and [4] websites, usually based outside of the United States, where consumers can order prescription drugs without a prescription...." (18) Typically, ordering from an online pharmacy requires a consumer to submit a written prescription, or at the very least requires a telephone conversation between the online business and the prescribing physician. (19) Not so in the case of the rogue pharmacies, or websites posing as such, particularly those based abroad. A survey of more than 2,000 online pharmacy services conducted in the year 2000 revealed that eighteen percent were based internationally, (20) as is the case of viagra-global.com. For instance, a disclaimer on the site holds the consumer responsible for knowing the health risks from using Viagra and claims that the online business is not liable in any way. (21) Furthermore, under its shipping policies, viagraglobal.com states that consumers are responsible for compliance with all laws that may affect them, "[e]specially relating to the importation and the use of Viagra." (22) Nothing on the site indicates the country of origin, or the address of the business, although prices are quoted in both dollars and the English pound. (23)

Ordering medications on-line is appealing to many consumers because the Internet provides a cheap alternative to purchasing at regular brick-and-mortar establishments. …

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