Our firm has represented both doctors and and Web sites who are under investigation or have been charged with prescribing controlled substances via the Web.
The growing number of Web sites that offer consumers the opportunity to obtain prescription medications pursuant to an online medical consultation have been attracting considerable regulatory scrutiny from state and federal health officials.
For example, in Illinois, the Department of Professional Regulation suspended the license of Dr. Robert Filice for prescribing Viagra via an Internet pharmacy for patients he had never seen. Dr. Filice was working as a consultant for The Pill Box, a San Antonio, Texas-based pharmacy chain that sells online. The state suspended Dr. Filice's license immediately because it determined his actions put people in danger. The agency later reinstated his license when he admitted that his conduct was "unprofessional." The physician was fined $1,000, put on a two-year probation, and ordered to not prescribe medication to patients without personally interviewing and examining them.
Patients who wanted a prescription drug like Viagra logged onto The Pill Box's site and filled out a health questionnaire. The completed form went to the company's medical consultants, including Dr. Filice, who would reviewed the forms, and, if he found no health conditions that would preclude him from prescribing the drug, he would write a prescription for the drug, which the Pill Box would fill.
Many state legislators have passed or are considering bills to regulate online and mail-order pharmacies that sell products in the state. The laws would require Internet pharmacies to register with the state annually.
Recent enforcement actions in several other states highlighted below are indicative of this increased scrutiny at the state level:
• In Washington, the Board of Health fined an orthopedic surgeon $500 for engaging in "unprofessional conduct" by writing Viagra prescriptions for patients without performing a physical examination.
• In California, state regulators recently shut down two web sites—www.drpropecia.com and www.deyarmanmedical.com.com—run by a San Diego osteopath who was using the Web to prescribe baldness treatments without performing a traditional medical examination. The state is likely to fine the doctor, who has been practicing medicine for nearly a quarter-century, and could take away his license.
• In Kansas, the Attorney General on June 9 filed civil petitions alleging violations of consumer protection laws against seven companies that were selling prescription-only medications, including Viagra and weight-loss drugs, over the Internet. The Attorney General alleged that the companies violated a variety of state laws. Primarily, the alleged misdeeds stem from the distribution of prescription drugs by a doctor or pharmacist who was not licensed in the state. The state went after not only the sites that prescribe the medications, but also three pharmacies that filled the prescriptions. One of the suits alleges that Viagra was illegally dispensed to a 16-year old boy using his mother's credit card. If found liable, the companies could face penalties of $5,000 to $10,000 per violation.
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