U.S. Senator Warns of Internet Pharmacy Perils

In a commentary appearing in the June 17 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), wrote that ordering drugs from Internet pharmacies is dangerous and has caused the death of numerous people, including teenagers.

“Internet pharmacies threaten the two major premises underlying American prescription-drug policy: First, for certain medications, consumers need the advice and consent of a licensed expert who is familiar with their case. Second, the manufacture and handling of drugs should be highly regulated to ensure quality and safety,” wrote Coleman.

He added, “Internet pharmacies jeopardize those principles by making it possible for any individual to purchase virtually any drug without a prescription from anywhere in the world. Manufacturers of these drugs and the websites that sell them are often beyond the reach of U.S. regulations, and act accordingly.”

Coleman recently directed an investigation into the ease and safety of drug purchases over the Internet. The investigation looked at the ease with which a 12-year-old child could order drugs over the Internet; the types of drugs that are shipped into the U.S.; the proportion of pharmaceutical imports that are counterfeit, falsely branded, of improper potency, adulterated, or improperly stored; and the health consequences for an individual who uses such drugs.

Coleman said the investigation’s findings “are disturbing” According to the senator, “The sheer volume of pharmaceutical packages entering the U.S. is massive, and we are not doing enough to protect consumers.”

The General Accounting Office (GAO) was able to buy numerous prescription drugs, including highly-addictive narcotics and other controlled substances, without a prescription and without visiting a doctor. Coleman said that 30 percent of the pharmaceutical packages contained controlled substances. “Other examples included the date-rape drug GHB, which had been ordered by teenagers; codeine-laced products; morphine; fake Lipitor; and injectable steroids from China,” said Coleman. “We have also found shipments of expired drugs and drugs that are listed on Subpart H, which have exceptionally restrictive requirements for prescriptions and have horrible side-effects.”

Coleman added that the products often were not shipped according to insulation and temperature-control requirements. In addition, many products came without labeling, instructions, or warning materials.

Remedial action could include empowering U.S. Customs to immediately seize and destroy any package containing a controlled substance that is illegally imported into the U.S.; providing new disclosure standards for Internet pharmacies; prohibiting Internet sites from selling or dispensing prescription drugs to consumers who are provided a prescription solely on the basis of an online questionnaire; and allowing state attorneys general to go to federal court to shut down rogue Internet pharmacies.

“Surely we don’t want to play what some correctly call ‘Rx Roulette’ with the health of American consumers by blindly ignoring real safety concerns about the drugs we allow to be imported from the vast unregulated Internet pharmacy,” said Coleman.