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Congress Tries To Nix Internet Rx

Unsolicited e-mails arrive daily across America offering cheap, quick access to prescription drugs. Without ever seeing a doctor, people can use the Internet to have drugs prescribed and shipped to their homes by a "licensed U.S. pharmacy."

That is the claim of one of hundreds of Internet sites that will sell drugs to people who have no prescription when they sign on. The price may be right, but the practice is dangerous, say two lawmakers who are proposing legislation that aims to curb growing online sales.

"Too many people are finding ways to obtain medications online without a valid prescription," Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said Thursday at a hearing on the bill he introduced with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Their legislation would prohibit domestic Internet sites from writing and filling prescriptions without seeing patients. It also would give states the authority to ask federal courts to help shut down Internet pharmacies based in other states and require Internet sites to list names and other information for their pharmacists and physicians.

The bill has the backing of state medical boards, doctors' groups and many pharmacists. The Bush administration has yet to take a position on the bill, said John Taylor, FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.

The administration backs greater disclosure, but has concerns about giving the federal government more power to regulate the practice of medicine, which has traditionally been done by states, Taylor said.

The bill does not address the hot political topic of importing prescription drugs from abroad. However, the FDA's William Hubbard said consumers often have no way to tell whether they are dealing with an American or foreign pharmacy when they sit down in front of their computers.

An FDA employee ordered the cholesterol-reducing Lipitor from a Web site that appeared to be in Belize but that further research showed could have been in China, he said. When the package arrived, it had a return address in Miami and a Dallas postmark.

Hubbard said the employee filled out a questionnaire indicating he was taking a drug that should not be taken with Lipitor.

By Mark Sherman