US Law and Overseas Online Pharmacies
Legality and some of the risks of purchasing drugs online depend largely on the specific kind / amount of the drug(s) being purchased.
Even though it’s rarely enforced, it’s actually usually illegal to purchase controlled substances from an overseas pharmacy. Indeed, a person purchasing a controlled substance from an online pharmacy may be violating two federal laws, each of which carries stiff penalties. This fact, while not well known, is nothing to make light of. The very act of importation of drugs overseas violates 21 USC, Section 952 (which can carry up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for importation of non-narcotic Schedule III, IV, or V drugs). The act of simple possession of a controlled substance without a valid prescription violates 21 USC, Section 844 (which can carry up to 1 year in prison and $1,000 fine). Also, note that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recognize online prescriptions. As far as the FDA is concerned, for the prescription to be valid, there must be a face-to-face relationship between the patient and the health care professional or doctor that’s prescribing the drug.
Today, people are so use to ordering online most anything from cosmetics, shoes, clothing, wigs, to expensive jewelry, as well as furniture, cars, and houses, they don’t think twice about whether they are breaking the law when they place an online prescription order. Well, most of the time when an online order is place, no laws are broken. Just recently I bought my daughter a modest cubic zirconia rings. You might think it would be preferable to go to an actual jewelry store to get a ring since it has to be “sized”. But tricky me I took the circumference of another of her many rings and was able to use that for the size. She loved the cubic zirconia sterling silver ring. Everyone thought she was wearing a ring with little diamonds dazzling the eye. Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone that is visually close in likeness to diamonds, but is relatively inexpensive. Ah, but I digress. Obviously a sterling silver ring is not an overseas prescription order for vicodin.
Occasionally, maritime lawyers become involved when a maritime worker orders drugs from an online pharmacy to give pain relief from injuries suffered while working on a US ship or barge plying the inland waterways of the United States or working on a recognized Jones Act vessels in the Gulf of Mexico or the oceans. Injured maritime workers are eligible for Maintenance and Cure Benefits when they are injured because of their maritime injury law rights. Some unscrupulous employers and insurance companies may try to steer injured seamen to one of their recommended doctors or encourage them to get prescriptions from overseas online pharmacies in an attempt to save money by not having to pay out large amounts of “cure” monies.
In addition, the FDA often acts with the intent to protect consumers, but causes other issues to surface. For example the FDA recently acted to halt the bogus sale of ‘homeopathic hCG’ drops used for weight loss, because of many complaints and findings that the products for sale contained no hCG. By banning the advertising of treatments tying hCG to weight loss, the FDA harmed legitimate medical practices that use real hCG in effective programs by banning their ability to get their message out, even though these services have significant rates of success in treating obesity. Effective medical treatments, like doctor supervised weight loss injections using hCG may no longer use Google Adwords to promote these services and the international component is even more complicated. The face to face relationship is not even considered here.
And that’s part of the crux, according to online pharmacies. A “face-to-face” relationship is subjective, and many online operations operate as an adjunct to the patient’s own doctor, provided that the patient submits medical records that document a condition for which requested medication is deemed appropriate.
Importation of any prescription drug violates 21 USC, Section 301(aa), unless certain conditions are met:
1. The drug is imported from Canada, from a seller registered with the Secretary (i.e. with FDA) (hence the popularity of Canadian online pharmacies);
2. The drug is imported from a licensed pharmacy for personal use by an individual – and not for resale – in quantities that don’t exceed a 90-day supply;
3. The drug is accompanied with a copy of a valid prescription;
4. The drug is a prescription drug that’s approved by the Secretary;
5. The drug is in the form of a final finished dosage that was manufactured in an establishment that’s registered under section 510; and
6. The drug is imported under such other conditions as the Secretary determines to be necessary in order to ensure public safety.