Federal law prohibits dispensing dangerous drugs without a prescription from a doctor who has a legitimate medical relationship with the patient. However, there are hundreds of Internet websites that offer prescription medications to anyone without the prescription, including dangerous and/or addictive drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Methadone and Xanax.
A recent study located 365 websites that sell controlled medications over the Internet by mail. Most of them sell their drugs without requiring a prescription. Other websites offer to sell the required prescription after a person provides some basic information over the Internet. Officials believe that the ease with which people can get dangerous, and other, drugs over the Internet is increasing drug abuse, particularly among younger people such as college students. The study showed that 85% of all drug sales over the Internet involved controlled drugs versus 11% of drug sales from pharmacies. This statistic obviously suggests that people are taking advantage of the ease and anonymity of the Internet to obtain certain drugs they could not get by walking into a pharmacy.
Law enforcement officials have been trying to put a stop to the illegal sale of drugs over the Internet. While the recent study found 365 websites selling drugs over the Internet without requiring a prescription, a similar search last year found 581 such websites. However, many of these Internet sites are based outside of the country. (This, of course, raises an issue as to how safe it is to take a medication when it is unclear where it came from, who prepared it and who dispensed it.) Additionally, these websites can come and go and avoid detection much easier than a traditional business. Congress is currently considering a law entitled the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act which would require online pharmacies to be certified and also require a person to actually see a doctor prior to obtaining a prescription for a controlled medication. It is unclear how and to what extent those requirements will truly address the problem and how offenders would be caught.