ONLINE DRUGSTORES I: Customs Seizes Record Number of Drugs
As many consumers have turned to online drugstores based overseas for prescription bargains, in turn, the United States Customs Service seized 9,725 packages with prescription drugs in 1999, almost 4.5 times the number it confiscated in 1998, the New York Times reports. Customs inspectors seized drugs including steroids, hormones, aphrodisiacs, impotency medications, anticancer pills, painkillers and tranquilizers from companies in Thailand, China, Mexico, Switzerland and others, mainly because they "had not been approved for use in this country, did not comply with American labeling requirements or fell below federal standards for the quality and purity of drugs." However, the number of packages seized is "probably only a small fraction of what consumers are illegally buying from fly-by-night Web sites, many of which offer to mail drugs in unmarked envelopes with few questions asked." Customs Service Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "The Internet has given us a lot more work. We've been deluged with prescription drugs coming in from overseas. It's a major challenge to deal with this huge increase in volume." Internet site regulation is a sticky situation for the Clinton administration as Vice President Al Gore and other Democrats have berated drug companies for their higher prices and consumers buy online because of the lower prices provided by foreign pharmacies. When the Customs Service seizes drugs, it may send a warning to the purchaser, but according to spokesperson Dean Boyd, the agency "usually refrained from taking action when consumers imported small amounts of prescription drugs ... for their own use, and the drugs posed no 'unreasonable risk' to the users." Boyd added, "We won't arrest Granny just because she wants to get her drugs cheaper." However, if the shipment contains "a large quantity of drugs with a high potential for resale and abuse, customs agents may deliver the drugs and arrest the buyer." Congressional intervention does not appear to be in the works yet. Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-VA), chair of the House Commerce Committee, said, "I'm reluctant to set a precedent for regulation of the Internet before the full potential of electronic commerce is understood" (Pear, 1/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.