Oct 22, 2008
By: George Koroneos, Online Content & News Editor
PHARMEXEC DIRECT MARKETING EDITION
If you had a drug dealer selling heroin out of your living room, chances are you would do something about it. That’s the predicament many Web hosting and domain registration companies have faced, as the number of illegal online pharmacies has spiked in the past few years.
President Bush, last week, signed into a law a bill that would give companies such as GoDaddy and Lunarpages the ability to remove Web sites of online pharmacies that are not registered as government-approved medication sellers. Under the new rules, if a Web site is making drugs available for sale in the US and they don’t comply with the statute, the hosting companies can shut the site down regardless of where the pharmacy is located.
“We are seeing so many pharmaceuticals—a dramatic increase over the last three years—online,” said Christine Jones, general counsel for GoDaddy, host to 31 million online domains. “We were looking for a better solution than simply redirecting domain names for SPAM, which is all we could do in the past.”
The legislation came into existence after Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) became involved with a case in which ateenager overdosed on Vicodin. The drugs were obtained from an online pharmacy without a prescription. The Senate version of the bill made its way through the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“We’re one step closer to ending the practice of rogue pharmacies on the Internet,” said Feinstein in a release. “We can no longer stand back and allow these outfits to sell highly addictive medications to anyone with a computer mouse and a credit card.”
Jones notes that there is no statutory obligation for an online pharmacy to receive verified Internet pharmacy practice sites (VIPPS) certification. “VIPPS is an extra layer of protection, but there is no requirement that says if you are not certified by VIPPS, you can’t sell drugs online,” she said. “We were looking for something that would make the sale of drugs without registration illegal. Just like child pornography is illegal and taken down immediately on the Web.”
By definition, the largest server providers also host the most illegal pharmacy sites. Last year, GoDaddy redirected 1,300 pharmacy related domain names for SPAM. In effect, if a spammer is sending emails from illegalpharmacy.com, and the host receives a SPAM complaint, the domain is taken away. GoDaddy wanted a tool that would easily allow the company to take a Web site offline without having to buy and test the drugs, get a prescription, or make people see a doctor.
“[Under the old rules] we couldn’t take your content away, but you are not allowed to use domain names that are registered to GoDaddy,” Jones said. “We weren’t allowed to take the underlying Web site down, because they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
Even though the registration period isn’t for another six months, GoDaddy has taken a number of URLs that it knew to be violating the prescription rules and have redirected them.
“A lot goes into that law enforcement investigation before a site can come down—we would like to squash that a little earlier,” Jones said. “I always try to encourage people, when they come across a shady site, figure out who the hosting company is and send an email to their abuse department. We rely on those notices to do our investigation.”
4/1/2008–Passed Senate amended. Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 – Amends the Controlled Substances Act to prohibit the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of controlled substances over the Internet without a valid prescription. Exempts telemedicine practitioners. Defines “valid prescription” as a prescription that is issued for a legitimate purpose by a practitioner who has conducted at least one in-person medical evaluation of the patient. Adds definitions to the Controlled Substances Act relating to online pharmacies and the issuance of prescriptions over the Internet.
Imposes registration and reporting requirements on online pharmacies.
Requires an online pharmacy to:
(1) display on its Internet homepage a statement that it complies with the requirements of this Act;
(2) comply with state laws for the licensure of pharmacies in each state in which it operates or sells controlled substances;
(3) post on its Internet homepage specified information, including the name, address, and telephone number of the pharmacy, the qualifications of its pharmacist-in-charge, and a certification of its registration under this Act; and
(4) notify the Attorney General and applicable state boards of pharmacy at least 30 days prior to offering to sell, deliver, distribute, or dispense controlled substances over the Internet.
Authorizes the Attorney General to issue a special registration under this Act for telemedicine practitioners.
Increases criminal penalties involving controlled substances in Schedules III, IV, and V of the Controlled Substances Act. Authorizes states to apply for injunctions or obtain damages and other civil remedies against online pharmacies that are deemed a threat to state residents.
Requires the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in determining whether to amend or establish new sentencing guidelines to conform the guidelines and policy statements to this Act, to consult with the Department of Justice (DOJ), experts, and other affected parties concerning which penalties for scheduled substances should be reflected.
Requires the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to report to Congress after the enactment of this Act and annually for two years after such initial report on:
(1) the foreign supply chains and sources of controlled substances offered for sale without a valid prescription on the Internet;
(2) DEA efforts and strategy to decrease such foreign supply chains; and
(3) DEA efforts to work with domestic and multinational pharmaceutical companies and others in combating the sale of controlled substances over the Internet without a valid prescription.