States can adequately police Internet pharmacies, according to Carla Stovall, Kansas attorney general.
Operating out on the front lines to find and prosecute rogue Internet pharmacy sites, state attorneys general have a wish list of tools to help them stem the tide of med-ications prescribed and dispensed illegally in cyberspace, according to Kansas' attorney general.
Three items top the agenda of draft legislation being circulated among the membership of the National Association of Attorneys General, said Carla Stovall, Kansas attorney general and NAAG president. Speaking at a recent annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association, she told attendees that the first thing the states want is for Uncle Sam to recognize that their laws are adequate to meet the challenges of reining in runaway Internet pharmacies.
"We believe current state law is sufficient, and we have every ability to prosecute under our consumer protections laws, just as we have been doing," Stovall said. "We can operate without any additional federal legislation. We think being able to get prescription drugs over the Internet is a great thing, but it's unconscionable to sell a prescription drug over the Internet or in another medium without a valid prescription."
The Government Accounting Office has identified about 190 rogue Internet sites that are selling prescription drugs without a script. Fifty-four sites dispense the drug after the consumer fills out an on-line health questionnaire. Twenty-five sites sell Rx drugs without any alleged medical evaluation or applications, and 21 of those sites are off-shore. Kansas was the first state to sue an Internet pharmacy, and, since then, 10 other states have followed suit.
"There are about 20 lawsuits pending, eight administrative actions, and 11 notices of intended action against more than 62 individuals, pharmacies, physicians, and other entities involved with selling prescription drugs on-line," Stovall said. "About 12 states are investigating [on-line pharmacies] but haven't produced notices of intent to sue yet. State pharmacy and medical boards have their own actions. In Ohio, they have gotten a conviction after guilty pleas from a physician and the company operating the Web site. And the U.S. Justice Department has indicted three illegal on-line pharmacies. They've gotten two guilty pleas, and one has a trial date in April."
The interstate nature of illegitimate Internet pharmacy sites makes it hard for individual states to track down and prosecute those outlaw operators. For example, the pharmacy may be located in Texas, while the physician writing the Rxs may be in Oregon and the site operators/owners live in Florida. What state attorneys general would like to see is national injunctive relief, Stovall said. That would make it possible for one state to get an injunction to stop an Internet pharmacy from operating in all the other states as well.
"There are not enough resources for every state to sue every company marketing unlawfully," said Stovall, who chairs NAAG's task force on Internet pharmacy. "National injunctive relief seems to be the only thing that will let us get a handle on this."
The third item on the wish list would be a system requiring Internet pharmacies to post the names of the principals involved, the address and phone number, and a list of states in which the pharmacy and physician are licensed. But there's no need for Uncle Sam to reinvent the seal of approval when the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) program is already up and running, Stovall added. The VIPPS seal posted on a Web site shows that an Internet pharmacy has passed a 17-step certification process created by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
"We don't want the federal government to adopt another certification process or approval system," Stovall said. "We think adopting what VIPPS has already done would be a great step in the right direction to provide good care and good information for consumers. What needs to be done is education, so consumers know they need to look for some kind of seal of approval to indicate they are dealing with something that is legitimate."
One thing the AGs don't want is a cybercode, a whole new set of laws to deal with the Internet, Stovall said. "We would ask for some tweaking to make it a little bit more understanding of the medium we're dealing with. But I don't think any attorney general would say we need cybercode laws. We don't need to start from scratch and redo it all, but some fine-tuning will be necessary to make sure we have what's most effective to protect the health and welfare of our citizens."
Carol Ukens. States present cyberlaw wish list to stop rogue sites.