Washington considers Internet
[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m. May 22, 2007]
American politicians are considering sweeping legislation aimed at cracking down on so-called "rogue"
Internet pharmacies prompting concern from legitimate Canadian
companies they may get caught in the crossfire.
The Senate is currently examining a bill from California Senator
Diane Feinstein aimed at protecting consumers from unregistered pharmacies on the Internet, many of which are making it easier to access dangerous
and habit-forming prescription drugs.
The Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2007 would "bar the sale or distribution of a controlled substance via the Internet without a valid prescription."
In effect, the law would compel pharmacies to only sell to U.S. consumers who have received a prescription after being examined in person by a physician.
It would also create a registration system for Internet pharmacies in the U.S. and other countries so American consumers would know which companies are in compliance with U.S. regulations.
The crackdown is coming amidst growing concerns about American teenagers opting to choose pharmaceuticals that can
be purchased without a prescription online -- such as Oxycontin and Vicodin -- to get high instead of illicit drugs.
Some question whether such a law will have any impact on some of the shady operators, especially those outside U.S. jurisdiction.
In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard contradictory testimony about the source of the problem at hearings it held last week in Washington.
Joseph Rannazzisi, of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, suggested it was a primarily a domestic criminal problem when he told the committee that "a majority of the rogue sites operating today are based in the United States."
But another witness, Thomas McLellan, CEO of the Treatment Research Institute, told the same committee that his group's research showed that 80% of sites that sites
that sold opiates were registered to owners outside the United States.
McLellan told the committee he wanted Feinstein's legislation to go farther and put restrictions on banks and credit card companies using such sites, similar to the ones the U.S. Congress introduced last fall in legislation targeting Internet gambling.
The crackdown on Internet pharmacies is ironically coming from a Democratic-controlled Congress, whose legislators had been strong backers of allowing U.S. consumers to purchase lower-cost Canadian brand name drugs from Internet sites based in Canada.
In recent years, Canada's Internet pharmacy industry created some tension between
the Canadian and the American governments and the health minister in the previous Liberal government had expressed his concerns about drug shortages in Canada and the country
being labelled the United States' drug store.
As well, the brand-name drug industry in Canada and the U. S. has often criticized Internet drug sales
often citing concerns about counterfeit drugs being sold to U.S.
When Feinstein introduced her bill in March, her office made clear in a press release that the legislation was not aimed at preventing low-cost drugs from being reimported to U.S. consumers.
"The bill introduced today is designed to stop Internet pharmacies that sell controlled substances without a valid prescription, not pharmacies that sell drugs at a low cost to individuals who have a valid prescription from their U.S. doctors," read Feinstein's press release.
Gordon Haugh of the Canadian International Pharmacy
Association is taking a wait and see view of the legislation.
Speaking to PoliticsWatch from Washington where he is attending a
seminar on the reimportation issue, Haugh said his group supports
the intent of Feinstein's attempts to "shutdown the bad actors and keep bogus pharmaceuticals off the market."
"All of our members require a prescription to sell a
pharmaceutical," he said.
"The problem with this type of legislation is that often when you try to paint with a broad brush you catch some of the good actors with the bad actors. The wording is always the problem with this kind of legislation."
The legislation has bipartisan support and was co-sponsored by Republican Congressman
During last week's hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy, who is chair of the judiciary committee, compared Internet pharmacies that don't require prescriptions to "drug dealers."
"Internet drug trafficking has presented another challenge for law enforcement," he said. "If drug dealers came into our
neighbourhoods selling these kinds of drugs, Americans would be up in arms."
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