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December 2008 return to the table of contents

New Law Tightens Regulation of Online Pharmacies

At one time, companies in the US could advertise controlled substances for sale whether a prescription was required or not and it was up to law enforcement officials to prove they should be shut down.  Now, new rules allow state and federal officials a streamlined process.

A new law limits the way that web sites can advertise the sale of controlled substances, a move that strengthens the ability of federal agencies to monitor the distribution of narcotics.

In October, President Bush signed into law the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008. The law was drafted by two senators in response to the death of Ryan Haight, an 18-year-old who overdosed on Vicodin purchased from an online pharmacy without a doctor's prescription.

The new law, effective in April, requires online pharmacies to obtain proof that a patient has visited a doctor and has a prescription for a controlled substance. And just like their storefront counterparts, online pharmacies must register with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Legitimate online pharmacies, however, will not be prohibited from supplying controlled substances to patients with valid prescriptions.

Although the new law is being embraced by federal and state agencies, there is one caveat: the measure does not prevent companies registered outside the U.S. from continuing to sell controlled substances.

Federal and state authorities currently have to seek injunctions to get domestic web sites from offering controlled substances without a prescription.  This requires a lengthy court process. Once the new law is in place, state attorneys general or federal law enforcement officials can simply give notice to a provider to shut down these online pharmacies.

While promoting the use of controlled substances and providing pricing information is legal, once web sites branch off into sales, the owners violate the law. Distributors illegally selling controlled substances over the Internet can face up to 10 years in prison.


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