Press Releases

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) today reintroduced legislation to hold accountable those who operate unregistered pharmacies on the Internet and protect the safety of consumers who wish to fill legitimate prescriptions online. 

Senator Feinstein first drafted legislation to stop the dangerous practices of rogue online pharmacies after Ryan Haight, a California high school honors student and athlete, died in 2001 from an overdose of the painkiller hydrocodone.  He had purchased the painkiller from an online pharmacy after simply filling out an online questionnaire describing himself as a 25-year-old male suffering from chronic back pain.  The doctor prescribing the drug never met or personally examined Ryan. 

The bill introduced today is designed to stop Internet pharmacies that sell controlled substances without a valid prescription, not pharmacies that sell drugs at a low cost to individuals who have a valid prescription from their U.S. doctors. 

“Today, controlled substances are just a click away on the Internet.  This is dangerous and it should be stopped,” Senator Feinstein said.  “This legislation bans the dangerous practices of rogue pharmacies and requires all controlled substances purchased on the Internet to be done with a legitimate prescription and a medical examination.”  

“Law enforcement officers in Alabama have expressed concern,” Senator Sessions said. “Abuse of controlled substances, often by minors, is a problem we must continually combat.  Recently, the internet has exploded with online pharmacies making sales without requiring a valid prescription or verifying the age or identity of the person buying the controlled substance.   This has made some of the most dangerous and addictive painkillers easy to obtain without a valid prescription.  Often, minors are the individuals ordering these substances over the internet.”
Prescription drug abuse is growing in the United States, with 15.1 million adults admitting to abuse of prescription drugs in a 2003 study.  That number represents a 94 percent increase in the last decade. 

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that deaths from accidental drug overdoses nearly doubled from 1999 to 2004, increasing from 11,155 in 1999 to 19,838 in 2004.  Accidental drug overdoses are now the nation’s second-leading cause of accidental death.  The CDC has attributed the rise in drug overdose deaths to a higher use of prescription painkillers and increasing numbers of overdoses of cocaine and prescription sedatives.

“Ready access to controlled substances over the Internet is helping to fuel addictions,” Senator Feinstein said.  “Patients use these pharmacies to obtain addictive drugs, like Vicodin and Oxycontin.  They can receive these dangerous drugs without a doctor performing a physical exam to ensure that an underlying health condition will not cause a dangerous side effect.  Often, a credit card is all that is required.” 

Bill Summary

The Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2007 amends the Controlled Substances Act.  It would:

  • Bar the sale or distribution of a controlled substance via the Internet without a valid prescription.  A practitioner must conduct an in-person examination of a patient in order for a prescription to be considered valid.
  • Require Online Pharmacies to display information identifying the business, the pharmacist, and any physician associated with the website.  Pharmacies must also clearly display a statement of compliance on their homepage.  This will allow consumers to clearly identify which pharmacies are safe—and which are not.
  • Create tough penalties for pharmacies that continue to operate outside the law, by clarifying that such activities are subject to the current federal laws against illegal distributions, and the same penalties applicable to hand-to-hand sales.  Internet distributors, like other drug dealers, could be prosecuted in our federal courts, and if convicted would face sentences of up to life imprisonment, as well as forfeiture of their criminally-derived proceeds.
  • Increase the penalties for illegal distributions of controlled substances categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule III, IV and V substances.  For Schedule III substances, existing maximum penalties would be doubled, up to 10 years for a first conviction, and to 20 years for a second conviction, and new penalties of up to 30 years would be added if death or serious bodily injury results.  The bill adopts similar increases for Schedule IV and V substances, with longer periods of supervised release also available to follow prison terms ordered on these drug distribution convictions.
  • Allow a state attorney general, after giving the U.S. Department of Justice notice and an opportunity to intervene, to shut down a rogue site across the country, rather than only bar sales to consumers of his or her state.