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Smith Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Safety of Online Pharmacies

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Smith Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Safety of Online Pharmacies

U.S. Representatives Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) today introduced legislation to stop rogue pharmacies operating on the Internet and protect the safety of consumers who fill legitimate prescriptions online.

The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 is a companion to legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The legislation is designed to stop Internet pharmacies that sell controlled substances without a valid prescription.

Congressman Lamar Smith (TX-21), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee: "According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs rank second—only behind marijuana—as America's drug of choice. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that as many as seven million Americans are addicted to prescription drugs. Unfortunately, online pharmacies make obtaining these highly addictive painkillers virtually effortless, increasing the risk of addiction and death. Congress can and must put a stop to this. This important legislation protects Americans and helps prevent addiction by prohibiting the online sale of controlled substances without a valid prescription."

Congressman Bart Stupak: "The trend of new rogue sites selling controlled substances is still heading upwards. Hundreds of sites are selling, or offering to sell, controlled substances to almost anybody without a prescription and little action has been taking so far to address the problem. Our legislation will counter this growing trend and ensure all controlled substances purchased on the Internet are legitimate."

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack: "With prescription drug abuse affecting millions of Americans across our country, it is abundantly clear that we need to put a stop to illegitimate online pharmacy practices. Deceptive internet pharmacy sites do not even require a valid prescription before sending highly addictive and potentially deadly narcotics to anyone with a computer. The laws currently used to govern this industry are archaic, and I am proud to join with my colleagues in introducing legislation that will help us fight prescription drug abuse and protect the health safety of Americans."

Senator Diane Feinstein: "In California, an 18-year-old honor student overdosed and died because he was able to buy painkillers online without a physical exam. Unfortunately, he wasn't alone. Statistics show that deaths of young people due to prescription drug overdoses have skyrocketed—up 63 percent between 1999 and 2004. These controlled substances are far too accessible to children and teens on the Internet. We simply cannot allow this to happen. The Senate has passed this legislation. I'm hopeful that my colleagues in the House will quickly take up and approve this important bill."

A 2004 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study obtained 68 samples of 11 different prescription drugs, each from a different Web site. GAO found that 45 online pharmacies provided a prescription based on their own medical questionnaire or had no prescription requirement at all. Among the drugs GAO obtained without a prescription were those with special safety restrictions and highly addictive narcotic painkillers.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigations have discovered 14 deaths or overdoses and 15 persons who have entered rehabilitation or sustained injuries from drugs obtained over the Internet. The tragic case of Ryan Haight is just one example of a rapidly spreading problem. Ryan died at the age of 18 from an overdose of painkillers—including Vicodin—he ordered over the Internet at age 17 without a legitimate prescription.

The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to counter the growing sale of controlled substances over the Internet without adequate medical oversight. Specifically, the legislation would:

Bar the sale or distribution of all controlled substances (Schedule I, II, III, IV and V drugs) via the Internet without a valid prescription;

Require online pharmacists to display information identifying the business, the pharmacists and any physician associated with the website providing the drugs;

Clarify that pharmacies that continue to operate outside the law will be governed by the current federal penalties against illegal distributions;

Increase the penalties for all illegal distributions of controlled substances classified as Schedule III, IV or V substances; and

Create a new federal cause of action that would allow a state attorney general to shut down a rogue site selling controlled substances in any state.

The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee. Smith is the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee while Stupak and Bono Mack serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security is holding a hearing today entitled "Online Pharmacies and the Problem of Internet Drug Abuse."

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