Proposed Law Would Increase Protections for Consumers Who Buy Prescription Medications Online

The Online Pharmacy Safety Act (S 2002), a bill developed to protect consumers from Internet drug outlets that distribute drugs without requiring a valid prescription, was introduced to the United States Senate on December 15, 2011.<!--more-->

The proposed law builds on the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act which was implemented in April 2009. The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act added a definition of “valid prescription” to the Controlled Substances Act and that change allowed for the prosecution of individuals distributing controlled substances via the Internet without requiring a valid prescription.

Similarly, the proposed law would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) to use the Ryan Haight definition of valid prescription so that non-controlled substance prescription drugs may only be ordered and dispensed from an Internet pharmacy pursuant to a valid prescription. Specifically, the bill would amend the FD&C Act to define valid prescription as “a prescription issued for a legitimate medical purpose in the usual course of professional practice,” and to specify that a prescription must be issued by “a licensed practitioner who has conducted at least 1 in-person medical evaluation of the patient,” except under certain circumstances, such as the issuance of a prescription under an Expedited Partner Therapy program or pursuant to a state health authority order, as allowed by law.

The bill’s sponsors, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), emphasized in a press release that illegally operating Internet sites also jeopardize consumers’ health by distributing dangerous counterfeit drugs. The proposed legislation would help to protect consumers from such threats by amending the FD&C to require the establishment of a registry of legitimate online pharmacy Web sites, that would include Internet pharmacies accredited by the VIPPS® (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice SitesCM) accreditation program, and other approved Internet pharmacies. In addition, the legislation would allow Internet service providers – such as domain name registrars, financial transaction providers, and Internet advertising services – to cease or refuse to provide services to Internet drug outlets not included on the registry.

Senator Sessions stated that the bill would “strengthen the law to stop online vendors from selling prescription drugs without valid prescriptions.” And Senator Feinstein emphasized that the legislation would ensure access to safe, legitimate Internet pharmacies, stating “If you need to order your prescriptions online, you should be assured you are getting the real medication – not contaminated ingredients or even the wrong ingredients. This bill would put a stop to fraudulent websites that sell illegal or counterfeit drugs or take advantage of consumers.”