October 2, 2008 By Corey McKenna
of an unscrupulous doctor who willingly issues prescriptions to "patients" throughout the country whom the doctor never sees and without a pre-existing bona fide doctor-patient relationship.
The act also requires an endorsement from the DEA before a pharmacy can dispense controlled substances via the Internet. This endorsement is in addition to the registration a pharmacy holds for its brick-and-mortar operation, and it allows law enforcement to clearly identify internet sites where controlled substances can be sold.
Rogue Internet pharmacies are generally supplied by DEA-registered brick-and-mortar pharmacies, according to the agency. Typically, these brick-and-mortar pharmacies have little or no walk-in customers and do most or all of their business online. In some instances, criminal organizations purchase legitimate "mom and pop" brick-and-mortar pharmacies, use them to supply to the operation for just a few months and then walk after taking in substantial cash.
Rather than try to block all online pharmaceutical sales, the Ryan Haight Act will put online pharmaceutical sales on an equal regulatory footing with those sales through a brick-and-mortar facility. The act requires an endorsement of an existing registration to allow existing pharmacies to sell controlled substances online. This means law enforcement will be able to carefully scrutinize all applications for such registration and be able to easily separate legitimate and illegitimate Internet operations.
The act will also enhance penalties for unlawfully dispensing controlled substances in Schedules III through V. A schedule is a category of drug defined in the Controlled Substances Act of 1974 and subject to regulation by the DEA. Vicodin, which Haight ordered over the Internet without seeing a doctor, is a Schedule III drug. Schedule III also includes ephedrine and Anabolic steroids. Schedule IV includes Xanax and Ambien and the anti-seizure medication Phenobarbital. Robitussin cough syrup is classified as a Schedule V drug.
Criminals are aware of the low penalties associated with Schedule III and Schedule IV substances, and they generally refrain from selling schedule II substances, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule II drugs include cocaine, Ritalin and PCP. These changes to maximum penalties apply to all illegal distribution, not just those occurring over the Internet.
Another provision would give the Attorney General of each state the ability to bring a civil action in a federal district court to enjoin the actions of an online pharmacy operating in violation of its provisions. To bring such an action, the state would be required to have given the U.S. Attorney General prior written notice, giving the Attorney General the opportunity to intervene in the litigation.
This would help ensure that state and federal enforcement authorities can work in partnership with each other and that individual states are able to take effective enforcement action. Under current law, a state Attorney General's enforcement authority against an online pharmacy is limited to the geographic boundaries of that state, which causes significant challenges when a case involves illegal activity over the Internet.
While Haight's death at such a young age when he showed so much promise is tragic, what is even more so is that deaths like his are highly preventable. And while the bill that bears his name is a step in the right direction, it only addresses the supply side of the problem. Its provisions may provide consumers with enough information to give them pause about doing business with an Internet pharmacy; but for a person in such desperation he or she needs to procure drugs over the Internet that may not be enough. And criminals who set up shop online are likely not going to be given much pause either. Therefore, a thorough answer to the problem should be founded on educating people to the point where they don't even think to reach for drugs, even in the most desperate straights. Or at least consult a real physician -- not an Internet site.
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