March 30, 1999 5:45 PM PST

Drugstores want crackdown on rogue sites

Several leading online pharmacies, eager to set themselves apart from "fly-by-night" operations that skirt legality and ignore standard medical practices, are calling for a crackdown on unethical Net drugstores.

Soma.com today urged stricter enforcement of existing laws, and was quickly joined by two competitors, PlanetRx and Drugstore.com, which also back efforts to crack down on online pharmacies that aren't following regulations.

"It's a bad result if good guys get tarred with the brush meant to be applied to the bad," Soma.com spokesman Mitchell Reed said. "The good guys have absolutely nothing to fear from tough enforcement of laws that are on the books."

The mainstream online pharmacies are trying to avoid being lumped with what they call "profiteers" and "pill pushers." Those include Web sites that offer online clinical consultations but don't charge the customer unless they receive a prescription, most commonly for the male impotence drug Viagra or Propecia, a medication to treat baldness.

The call for tighter regulation comes as a variety of health professionals, pharmacy trade groups, and legislators decry abuses of laws regulating prescription drugs.

Last week, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, said it would develop a new program to certify Internet pharmacies. The NABP, made up of pharmacy regulators in each state, will allow online pharmacies that meet the standards of its Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program put a seal of approval on their Web storefronts. NABP will also publish a list of approved Net pharmacies.

The troublesome pharmacies frequently jump from one Web address to another, then disappear or set up shop under another name to escape detection, NABP said.

Mainstream Internet pharmacies like Soma.com say they're worried that publicity about fly-by-night operators will hurt their business. An episode of the ABC television show "20-20" last night ran a story about a man who died after obtaining medication through an online pharmacy on a prescription written from an online consultation.

Earlier this month, members of the House Commerce Committee released a letter in which it asked the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, to assess the scope of the Internet-based pharmaceutical market and determine how many prescriptions were being dispensed without a doctor's consultation.

The Food and Drug Administration also requested help from the Federal Trade Commission in monitoring and identifying Web sites that prescribe or dispense prescription drugs illegally. Reportedly some 30 Web sites sell Viagra or black-market versions of the drug online.

"There are folks out there prescribing Viagra illegally," said Stephanie Schear, PlanetRx vice president of business development. "We support regulation because we believe that everyone else should be complying with those standards."

Drugstore.com spokeswoman Debby Fry Wilson said her firm's chief pharmacist, Andy Stergachis, is working with the NABP to develop its certification program.

"The state boards of pharmacy are quite able to manage the situation and come up with standards of practice," Wilson said. "This Good Housekeeping seal of approval will be a good measurement for consumers to be able to distinguish the good players from the bad players."

 

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