NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

October 21, 2003

The Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration have formed a special task force to crack down on the illicit sale of narcotic prescription drugs on the Internet.

Task force members intend to pursue the purveyors of prescription narcotics aggressively, but they acknowledge the difficulty of the task. Many of the sites are based in countries where the sales are legal, and officials have few hopes that they will be able to intercept every package sent through the mail. Many of the packages bear fake customs certifications, making them especially difficult to track.

  • A recent examination by the F.D.A. of 1,153 packages of imported drugs found that 25 different controlled medications were among the imported pills.
  • A private investigator hired by the pharmaceutical industry (Bo Dietl), recently reported finding 1,400 Web sites that sell prescription medicines, more than 350 of which did not require prescriptions.

Congress is debating legislation that would legalize the reimportation of prescription medicine from Canada and Europe to give Americans access to lower-priced pills. Drug prices in the United States are often two to three times those found in Canada and southern Europe.

Several Midwestern governors have recently announced their support for reimportation, but the drug industry is fiercely opposed to reimportation, saying it is dangerous and undercuts its ability to finance research. F.D.A. officials have warned consumers against ordering drugs from Canada and elsewhere, saying many may be counterfeit.

In the case of prescription narcotics, however, both federal agencies say they worry that the drugs sold are actually what they claim to be - powerful opiates that can cause dangerous addictions. F.D.A. officials say that the growth in reimportation has made limiting the trade in narcotics more difficult.

Source: Gardiner Harris, "Two Agencies to Fight Online Narcotics Sales," New York Times, October 18, 2003.


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