Controversies and Legal Issues of Prescribing and Dispensing Medications Using the Internet

Published in: Mayo Clinic Proceedings, v. 79, no. 2, Feb. 2004, p. 188-194

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2003

by Constance Fung, Hawkin E. Woo, Steven M. Asch

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Online pharmacies fall into 3 major categories: independent Internet-only sites, online branches of brick-and-mortar pharmacies, and sites representing partnership among neighborhood pharmacies. Potential benefits of online pharmacies include increased access, lower transaction and product costs, and greater anonymity. However, online pharmacies have generated controversies, including the use of cyberdoctors on some sites, the dispensing of drugs without prescriptions from other sites, and the importation of prescription medications. Although some online pharmacies are legitimate and likely provide benefits to patients, other online pharmacies engage in questionable practices. Numerous state and federal regulations and laws have tried to address controversies surrounding rogue Internet pharmacies. Because online pharmacies are increasingly common, clinicians may encounter patients asking for advice and information about online pharmacies. The authors review the regulatory framework governing online pharmacies and the potential risks and benefits of using online pharmacies.

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