Internet Challenges of Buying Prescription Drugs Online

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When it comes to buying prescription drugs online, Canada is dealing with some of the same regulatory challenges that occur in the United States. In May, the Ontario College of Pharmacists announced that it laid charges against The Canadian Drug Store Inc. for operating an illegal Internet pharmacy based in Toronto. The store, which was filling prescriptions written by U.S. doctors for U.S. residents, was charged along with one of its directors with unlawfully operating an unaccredited pharmacy without registered pharmacists.

NAPRA has signed an agreement with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in the United States, and recently developed a program in Canada modeled after the NABP's Verified Internet Pharmacy Practices Site (VIPPS), a voluntary certification program.

A VIPPS seal of approval indicates that an online pharmacy complies with state licensing and inspection requirements, along with other VIPPS criteria dealing with such areas as patient rights to privacy and authentication of orders.

NABP developed the service in 1999 after consumers complained to state pharmacy boards about rogue sites posing as legitimate pharmacies. Sites can pop up overnight and disappear just as quickly, and there is little the U.S. government can do if you get swindled. The FDA suggests you steer clear of foreign Web sites. If you buy medicine from a domestic site, remember that the legitimate ones require a valid prescription.

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The FDA sends warning letters over the Internet to suspicious sites. About 30 percent of Internet sites that receive the FDA's letters stop their illegal activity. The FDA also sends copies of the letters to the home governments of the Web sites when the locations can be identified.

"We seek out the cooperation of foreign governments because we have limited reach in a foreign land," says David Horowitz, director of the Office of Compliance for the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "That is one of the major challenges of Internet enforcement."

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By Michelle Meadows www.fda.gov

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