- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Buying prescription drugs illegally over the Internet is on the rise in the United States, according to witnesses testifying before a Senate panel yesterday.

The number of rogue Web sites selling prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Ritalin has increased for three straight years, according to a new report released yesterday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and discussed at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

The report also found 581 Internet sites advertising prescription-drug knockoffs in 2007 compared with 342 sites last year.

The committee addressed the prospering illegal Internet prescription-drug business, in which rogue pharmacies, sometimes operating from abroad, quickly set up Web sites advertising opiates such as Vicodin and OxyContin and just as quickly disappear, leaving federal regulators unable to track down the culprits.

“We believe that law-enforcement techniques directed at the sources, transporters and retail sales networks of drug dealing will prove ineffective to deal with a globalized, Internet-based system of sales and distribution of drugs,” said Philip Heymann, a Harvard University law professor and a founding member of Keep Internet Neighborhoods Safe, a group of private companies and universities concerned with Internet drug trafficking.

Senators discussed the Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, which would require a valid prescription before online pharmacies could dispense drugs to patients. Additionally, the legislation would require at least one in-person examination take place for a prescription drug to get filled over the Internet.

Prescription drugs are the second-fastest growing category of drugs abused in the U.S. behind marijuana, a problem exacerbated by the Internet. Typically, a traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacy will sell about 180 prescriptions a day, of which 11 percent are considered controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA official Joseph Rannazzisi said. Conversely, Internet pharmacies sell about 450 prescriptions each day, 95 percent of which are controlled substances.

Despite the shadowy nature of illicit online pharmacies, Mrs. Feinstein criticized the DEA for not doing more to cooperate with her on the legislation, which she first introduced in 2004, and slow the proliferation of illegal online drug sales.

“I don’t know what is wrong with the [Drug Enforcement Administration],” she said. “Clearly, this is a big issue, and I can’t get help on these matters from the DEA.”

Mr. Rannazzisi disputed Mrs. Feinstein’s characterization of the agency but also made clear the Internet presents new challenges to law enforcement.

“The Internet has provided drug-trafficking organizations with the perfect medium,” he said. “It connects individuals from anywhere in the globe at any time, and it can be deployed from almost anywhere with very little formal training.”

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