Online drug sellers lack accountability

By Bryan A. Liang

President Obama recently announced that the United States would engage in a coordinated effort to ensure America’s cybersecurity. Yet his approach doesn’t address an area of cybercrime that is particularly dangerous: illegal sale of prescription drugs via the Internet.

High-risk drug sources dominate the Internet. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of Internet pharmaceutical sellers with no physical address listed on their Web sites are selling fake or tainted drugs.

In addition, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy found that more than 90 percent of Internet drug sellers weren’t compliant with state or federal laws regarding prescription drug sale and oversight.

To deal with this threat, Internet drug sales should be prohibited unless the seller is licensed through the NABP Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site program. The health insurance industry also has a role to play in this. By reducing drug co-pays for low-

income customers, insurance companies would be giving Americans less reason to fill their prescriptions at suspect Internet pharmacies.

Lowering co-pays also makes it easier for patients to adhere to their prescribed treatment regimen, instead of going off their medication to save money. Indeed, nonadherence not only results in poor clinical outcomes, but it also raises medical costs by about $300 billion each year.

The president and Congress need to address the dangers of unfettered online drug sales. Otherwise, we will simply allow drug pushers to move from the streets to the information superhighway.

Bryan A. Liang, M.D., Ph.D., J.D., is executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies, California Western School of Law, and co-director of the San Diego Center for Patient Safety, UCSD School of Medicine. He is author of the report “Searching for Safety: Addressing Search Engine, Website, and Provider Accountability for Illicit Online Drug Sales.”