Online drug crackdown

Rogue Pharmacies

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Each year millions of Americans buy prescription drugs from online pharmacies based in other countries. Since many of these pharmaceuticals are re-imported from countries with government-imposed price controls, they tend to be cheaper than American drugs. Naturally, U.S. pharmacies don't like the competition.

Although such imports are illegal, for years U.S. agencies generally have looked the other way. In 2010, however, the feds began coercing domain name wholesalers into hiring the pharmacy vetting company LegitScript to vouch for the legality of online drug retailers. LegitScript identifies "rogue" pharmacies, which are mainly pharmacies that sell to Americans but are not licensed in the United States, regardless of whether they are licensed in their home countries.

Consumers should be wary of sketchy online pharmacies, of course. But in a 2010 peer-reviewed study for the journal PLoS ONE, the American Enterprise Institute economist Roger Bate found that in purchasing from online pharmacies approved by either a government agency or a private credentialing agency like pharmacychecker.com, one runs almost no risk.

LegitScript was founded in 2007 by John Horton, a deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under George W. Bush. It is the only vetting firm recognized by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Horton left the agency just before it released a report condemning the online pharmacy verification industry. 

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