AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. April 2000, Volume 2, Number 4.

Journal Discussion

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Internet Sales of Prescription Drugs

Readers are referred to a 1999 JAMA article to explore the issue of whether online pharmacies should be regulated.

Articles and books on bioethics continue to expand in both number and the range of topics discussed. Between 1989 and 1998, more than 4000 articles alone were published in MEDLINE-cited journals. Some of the major topics examined are the patient-physician relationship, end-of-life care, reproductive medicine, genetics, and the allocation of scarce medical resources. From these publications, we will be selecting a handful of articles and chapters, some of which reflect issues of perennial concern to physicians, others reflect more recent quandries resulting from advances in biomedical technology.

A new article or book chapter will be featured every month, accompanied by questions intended to guide readers along the path of ethical reasoning and to promote discussion.

Marcwick C. Several groups attempting regulation of Internet Rx. JAMA. 1999;281:975-976.

As the number of Web sites that prescribe drugs proliferate, reports of abuse and deception have also become more commonplace. Many online pharmacies prescribe "lifestyle" drugs, such as Viagra, Propecia, and Zyban. Online sales of Viagra are reported to have been made to deceased individuals, pregnant women, and even pet animals. (1) Many pharmaceutical Web sites are located overseas, further complicating efforts to regulate prescription sales and ensure product quality. Members of the health care community are concerned that consumers are obtaining drugs without prescriptions from authorized medical personnel, increasing the potential of misuse and harm to the user. Also, the quality of many products originating outside the United States are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Questions for Discussion

Given the potential harm to users of unlimited access to unregulated prescription drugs, do you think there should be some form of online prescription regulation?

If so, who should regulate these transactions?

What challenges does the Internet pose to the traditional patient-physician relationship?


Related Articles

  • Regulate online drugs; cyber-pharmacies offer convenience but harbor hidden dangers [editorial]. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. 2000;Jan 3. Sect. A:10. Accessed March 31, 2000.
  • ADA News Online. Clinton proposes regulation of Internet pharmacies. Available at: American Dental Association Web site. December 30, 1999. Accessed March 31, 2000.
  • Online drugs. Available at: Healthweek Online Web site. Accessed April 3, 2000.
  • Food and Drug Administration. FDA announces new efforts to help curb illegal prescription drug marketing on the Internet [news release]. Available at: Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed April 3, 2000.
  • Food and Drug Administration. The Clinton administration unveils new initiative to protect consumers buying prescription drug products over the Internet [news release]. Available at: Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed April 3, 2000.

The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.