Photo: Ryan Haight died at 18 of a drug overdose in 2001 after he procured Vicodin over the Internet.

"I love you, Mom." Those were the last words Ryan Haight said to his mother as she kissed him goodnight on February 12, 2001. Haight -- a multi-sport athlete and an A student -- died at 18 of an overdose of a prescription drug he ordered over the Internet.

"Just the night before, we had dinner together after he came home from work at a nearby retail store. He used my Jacuzzi tub because he said his back bothered him from lifting things at work," his mother wrote on a Web site dedicated to the memory of people who died from prescription drug overdose.

"After one of his friends told us he got them off the Internet," Haight's mother continued, "we gave our computer to the DEA to investigate."

The DEA found that Haight had ordered Vicodin from a doctor he never saw and had it delivered by an Internet pharmacy.

"We also learned of Web sites on the Internet that have chat rooms that glorify the use of drugs and where sellers go to encourage our children to try them. Since Ryan's death we have found there are hundreds of Internet pharmacies selling prescription drugs," she said.

A 2004 study of prescription drug abuse in the United States found that 6.2 million Americans had abused prescription drugs with 2 million being dependent on that abuse.

To combat the problem, the U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that addresses the problems of how Haight could get Vicodin without ever seeing a doctor. The bill had already been passed by the House. It now heads to the president's desk for his signature.

The Ryan Haight Act provides several measures intended to verify the legitimacy of the medical need for a drug as well as the credentials of the pharmacy dispensing the medication. A doctor must conduct a face-to-face examination of a patient before dispensing medication for a legitimate medical condition. Pharmacies must post truthful information as to their physical location, the license numbers of their pharmacists and get an additional endorsement from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in order to conduct business over the Internet, even if it has registered as a brick-and-mortar pharmacy. The Ryan Haight Act will also make it a crime to use the Internet to advertise the illegal sale of a controlled substance.

The act also makes it easier for states' attorneys general to prosecute violations of the act committed by online pharmacies outside their states. Additionally, penalties for violations of the act have been increased to up to 20 years in prison.

DEA acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart hailed passage of the act. "Cyber-criminals illegally peddling controlled substances over the Internet have invaded households and threatened America's youth for far too long by supplying pharmaceuticals with a few clicks of a mouse and a credit card number," she said. "This landmark piece of legislation will bring rogue pharmacy operators out of the shadows by establishing a clear standard for legitimate online pharmaceutical sales. The legislation will allow customers to know they are doing business with a trusted, legitimate pharmacy, and give law enforcement the tools we need to identify illegitimate online pharmacies."

The act prohibits dispensing controlled substances via the Internet without a "valid prescription." For a prescription to be valid, it must be issued for a legitimate medical purpose in the usual course of professional practice, meaning that, with limited exceptions, a doctor must conduct at least one in-person medical evaluation of the patient.

This provision would address the primary harm caused by rogue Internet pharmacies: dispensing controlled substances on a large scale without a legitimate medical purpose. Rogue Internet pharmacies typically operate with active participation