Crackdown On Web Drugstores

Online drugstores offer convenience and, sometimes, lower prices than the corner pharmacy. But some also offer prescription drugs without prescriptions. That had the White House calling Tuesday for new Food and Drug Administration regulations.


It should be said from the start, reports CBS News' Elizabeth Kaledin, that the majority of Internet drugstore companies are legitimate. They are places where people like Hugh Snyder can get his heart medication without leaving the house.


"They called the doctor," says Snyder. "They got the prescription and three days later I got the medicine."


But in the unregulated world of e-commerce, the FDA has encountered a bitter pill: drugstores distributing prescription drugs without doctors or pharmacists on board.


"We do see an increasing number of sites that are now available that are selling either unapproved drugs or prescription drugs without a prescription," says the FDA's Dr. Jane Henney.


So for the first time, the federal government is cracking down, threatening investigations and harsh fines of up to a half-million dollars. Online drugstores will also require an FDA seal of approval so consumers will know which sites are safe.


In a written statement, President Clinton said there are rogue pharmacies on the Web that ignore federal and state laws by selling medications illegally.


"Rogue operators pose a threat to the health of Americans," Mr. Clinton said. "Today we are unveiling a proposal that sends a signal that we have zero tolerance for prescription drug Internet sites that ignore federal and state laws and harm patient safety and health."


The rise in rogue drug sites has been fueled by a need for privacy: among the biggest sellers are Viagra for impotence, Propetia for baldness and a variety of drugs for obesity.


"Consumers are either embarrassed to use a traditional system or find a traditional system inconvenient,"says Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies.


Pharmacy organizations have been trying to police themselves, but say it's getting harder and harder without any regulation.


"If we can't stop these activities, pretty much the door will be open for anyone to order from anywhere in the world any medication they want."


So far, 12 Web sites have been shut down and 200 are being investigated.


It should be said from the start, reports CBS News' Elizabeth Kaledin, that the majority of Internet drugstore companies are legitimate. They are places where people like Hugh Snyder can get his heart medication without leaving the house.


"They called the doctor," says Snyder. "They got the prescription and three days later I got the medicine."


But in the unregulated world of e-commerce, the FDA has encountered a bitter pill: drugstores distributing prescription drugs without doctors or pharmacists on board.


"We do see an increasing number of sites that are now available that are seling either unapproved drugs or prescription drugs without a prescription," says the FDA's Dr. Jane Henney.


So for the first time, the federal government is cracking down, threatening investigations and harsh fines of up to a half-million dollars. Online drugstores will also require an FDA seal of approval so consumers will know which sites are safe.


In a written statement, President Clinton said there are rogue pharmacies on the Web that ignore federal and state laws by selling medications illegally.


"Rogue operators pose a threat to the health of Americans," Mr. Clinton said. "Today we are unveiling a proposal that sends a signal that we have zero tolerance for prescription drug Internet sites that ignore federal and state laws and harm patient safety and health."


The rise in rogue drug sites has been fueled by a need for privacy: among the biggest sellers are Viagra for impotence, Propetia for baldness and a variety of drugs for obesity.


"Consumers are either embrrassed to use a traditional system or find a traditional system inconvenient,"says Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies.


Pharmacy organizations have been trying to police themselves, but say it's getting harder and harder without any regulation.


"If we can't stop these activities, pretty much the door will be open for anyone to order from anywhere in the world any medication they want."


So far, 12 Web sites have been shut down and 200 are being investigated. For now, the safest sites for getting prescriptions filled may still be the local drugstore.
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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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