The President yesterday signed legislation that will shut down what has become an alarming and dangerous trend: rogue Internet “pharmacies” selling drugs to people without the proper regulation and oversight to assure consumers that they are getting the drugs they ordered.

As the former head of the DEA, and then as Undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, I saw the kind of abuse that could occur on such Internet sites, many of which are scams – or worse – criminal operations preying on the young, the sick and the elderly.

The legislation is called “The Ryan Haight Act.” It was named after a teenager who died of an overdose on painkillers. How did the boy get the drugs? He used parents’ credit card to order them off a rogue site on the Internet.

Another problem of such sites is their connection to the increase in the spread of counterfeit drugs. While one danger is that young kids are indeed getting the drugs they are ordering, including powerful painkillers, that could result in addiction and even death, another danger is when the sick and elderly order needed medication and receive bogus medicines, resulting in the patient not getting the urgent medical care they need.

I would like to applaud Senators Norm Coleman and Diane Feinstein for introducing this important legislation. In short, it will:

  • Require Internet pharmacies to identify their business, pharmacist and physician for consumers;
  • Prohibit Internet pharmacies from distributing drugs to consumers with a prescription based solely on an online questionnaire;
  • Give state Attorneys General the ability to shut down rogue websites nationwide, rather than just in their individual jurisdictions.

The ability to order prescriptions via the Internet is one more example of how technology is changing our world for the better. As the tragic case of Ryan Haight shows, however, that with such new opportunities come the need for increased vigilance and proper oversight. This legislation is past due.

Note: For information on how to spot rogue Internet pharmacy sites, read the DEA fact sheet.