Magazine article Drug Topics

Net Watchers

Magazine article Drug Topics

Net Watchers

Article excerpt

Congress weighs new laws as it probes the practices of on-line pharmacies

What would a neutered cat want with Viagra? Or, for that matter, a man who would be 98 years old-if he hadn't died 20 years earlier? Those are just some of the ratings-grabbing ploys TV journalists have used successfully to buy Rxs from on-line pharmacies. They were included as part of the record for Congress' first foray into what more than one lawmaker called the "wild west world" of prescription drug sales on the Internet.

"I am not convinced that either the states or the federal government is even close to having a handle on this," said Rep. Ron Klink (D, Pa.). "The states seem overwhelmed and in need of resources, while the federal government is still trying to determine which agency or department is in charge. Meanwhile, the sites proliferate." There were 26 sites offering Rxs when the staff of the House Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee started looking at on-line pharmacies in January. By the time the sub-- committee convened a hearing late last month, it had identified more than 400. "Some of these sites operate for a short time at one Web site, disappear, and show up with another name, making it difficult for anyone to track them down," observed Rep. Fred Upton (R, Mich.), the subcommittee chairman. Asked Rep. Bart Stupak (D, Mich.), an ex-state trooper, "Where's the mp on the beat?"

The lawmakers tried to draw distinctions between the three types of e-- drugstores they found-those that require a prescription, those that will provide one after an on-line consultation, and the "no prescription? No problem!" sites, frequently offshore. Stupak and Klink clearly were dissatisfied with the testimony from the Food & Drug Administration and the Department of Justice, which shied away from proposing new legislation. Klink complained that the FDA couldn't tell the subcommittee how many on-line pharmacies were licensed from a list of 104 he had provided six weeks earlier.

Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation & Research, said the agency was doubling to 20 the number of full-time employees devoted to on-line pharmacies and installing a "Web crawler" to help it quickly find sites selling Rxs. "Who is protecting the American public?" Kink wanted to know He said brand-name manufacturers should be called to the next hearing to see whether they know if Rxs sold by the questionable on-line sites are legitimate, "and thus diverted, or are they counterfeit? …

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