DRUG SALES ON WEB TARGETED
Regulation Is Aim Of State, U.S. Bills
FISTY, Ky. -- A day after police arrested five people suspected of illegally buying drugs online, state House lawmakers passed a bill yesterday to regulate Internet pharmacies.
And reflecting national recognition of the problem, two bills to give states more power over online sales have been filed in Congress with the backing of the Bush administration.
Kentucky police vowed yesterday to make more arrests in Eastern Kentucky of people they say are illegally buying drugs online and picking them up at shipping centers. A stakeout Monday and last week at the UPS center in Hazard netted a total of nine arrests and packages containing $12,000 worth of the sedative Xanax and a generic form of the painkiller OxyContin.
In the community of Fisty -- population 500 -- in Knott County, some said the sight of UPS trucks has come to mean drug deliveries.
When Josh Bryant hears the trucks rumble into town, he checks the cash register of his family's convenience store to make sure he can break the big bills associated with drug dealing, he said. "People come in asking for change all day, every day, especially after a truck comes through," the 19-year-old said. "I don't ask questions, but everyone here knows what's going on."
Investigators said they believe the drugs are being resold in communities.
"It's caused a resurgence in street-level trafficking," said Dan Smoot, head of law enforcement for Operation UNITE, a federally funded anti-drug task force based in Hazard.
Mable Whitmore, 52, a nurse from Fisty, said she knows people who order drugs online.
"This has created an epidemic here," she said. "There's something terribly wrong when people can get drugs so easily." Laws porous
Scott Burns, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said his office is aware that "rogue pharmacies"
can operate outside the reach of the law.
"It is unacceptable that a 15-year-old in Kentucky could get on the Internet, say his elbow is killing him, and two weeks later get a delivery" of prescription drugs, Burns said.
Under Kentucky law, people can order drugs online without a valid prescription as long as they give their correct name and address, Smoot said.
The people arrested in Hazard were booked on suspicion of not using their names and addresses when ordering the drugs, police said. The charge of supplying a false name or address on a shipping order is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
In the Hazard bust, police seized 13 packages containing the same items -- 120 tablets of the sedative Xanax and generic OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller.
Maj. Mike Sapp of the Kentucky State Police said state and federal authorities went to Tampa, Fla., last September to investigate Internet pharmacies and seized records from a warehouse but no drugs.
Sapp declined to elaborate on the details of the seizures.
"This Internet drug problem has reached huge proportions," Sapp said.
"We tried to react to that to handle the problem before it got completely out of control."
Federal investigators were able to buy 68 samples of 11 prescription drugs over the Internet, according to a report released last June by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress.
Most of the drugs were bought without providing prescriptions, the GAO said.
Five U.S. Web sites and all 18 Canadian sites required prescriptions.
But 24 other U.S. sites and 21 foreign Internet pharmacies -- all outside Canada -- either issued prescriptions based on medical questionnaires or required no prescription. State bill
By a vote of 97-0, the House yesterday passed a bill aimed at illegal sales of drugs over the Internet. House Bill 343 would require that any business that sells controlled substances over the Internet to customers in Kentucky -- and at least one of its pharmacists -- be licensed by the state Board of Pharmacy.
That bill would require that any such business receive approval of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy as a "verified Internet pharmacy practice site."
The bill also would require that such companies report shipments of controlled substances to Kentucky to the state's electronic tracking system for addictive drugs.
Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who proposed the measure, said in an interview yesterday the goal is to better control Internet sales. "The black market for scheduled narcotics is being flooded by people who are ordering scheduled narcotics over the Internet from God-knows-where," Stumbo said.
The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Weaver, D-Radcliff, said on the House floor that Internet sales have reversed gains in keeping prescription drugs from being abused.
"The insatiable appetite for illegal drugs was being satisfied by drugs bought online," he said.
Stumbo's bill would give the state pharmacy board the power to impose a fine of up to $100,000 for violations of the law requiring licensing and reporting of sales.
And the bill would make being involved in an illegal drug transaction over the Internet a Class C felony. That would be elevated to a Class B felony if the illegal sale resulted in the death or serious injury of the recipient.
The bill goes to the Senate, where Stumbo said he expects it to pass.
Under identical House and Senate bills introduced last week in Congress, Internet pharmacy Web sites would be required to clearly identify the businesses, doctors and pharmacists connected with the sites.
The Web sites also would have to show the states where the online pharmacy's doctors and pharmacists were legally authorized to write and fill prescriptions.
The legislation seeks to bar Web sites from sending customers to doctors for prescriptions without ever being seen by those doctors.
The measures would give states new powers so state attorneys general could shut sites anywhere in the country, not just in their home states.
The enforcement power would be similar to the powers states have to regulate telemarketing, according to the bills' sponsors.
"I strongly support efforts to regulate the sale of prescription drugs that are sold through the Internet and hope Congress will act quickly before this growing problem becomes even more widespread," Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-5th District, said in a statement yesterday.
John M. Rector, general counsel for the National Community Pharmacists Association, said he would welcome new laws tightening controls on Internet sales of prescription drugs.
"It's not like buying cookies," Rector said. "It will make it a lot easier for the feds to get their hands on domestic sales of these drugs."