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Online pharmacies may face stricter regulation

Congress is considering legislation that would ban the sale or distribution of prescription drugs over the Internet without a valid prescription.

Online pharmacies will face stricter regulations under new legislation Congress is considering.

The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act would ban the sale or distribution of prescription drugs over the Internet without a valid prescription. In order for a prescription to be valid, it must be issued by a practitioner who has examined the patient in person at least once.

The legislation provides an exemption, though, for "telemedicine practitioners"--that is, practitioners (not pharmacists) communicating remotely with the patient or the health care professional treating the patient.

Under the proposed law, online pharmacies would have to comply with pharmacy licensing laws in each state in which they do business. They would also have to notify the Attorney General and relevant state boards at least 30 days before beginning to sell or distribute prescription drugs online. If in a month an online pharmacy dispenses 100 or more prescriptions or 5,000 or more dosage units of prescription drugs, that pharmacy would be required to report to the Attorney General the quantity of each controlled substance it dispensed each month.

Certain information would be required to appear on an online pharmacy's site, including a statement of compliance with U.S. laws and information about the business such as the qualifications of the pharmacist in charge. The bill also increases the penalties for the illegal distribution of certain controlled substances.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., introduced the bill into the House in June, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved it. Matching legislation passed in the Senate in April.

"A large number of individuals are obtaining their prescription drugs over the Internet through rogue Internet pharmacies," Stupak said. "Several of these illegitimate sites fail to provide information about potential adverse side effects, effectiveness, and even where they are located."

The bill is named after Ryan Haight, an 18-year-old who died from an accidental overdose of Vicodin, Valium, and a trace of morphine, which he acquired with prescriptions over the Internet.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, eBay, and the Federation of State Medical Boards have voiced their support for the bill.