Texas Joins Other States Regulating Internet Pharmacies

By Ronald L. Scott

Prescription drugs can be obtained via the Internet with ease, so Internet pharmacies have been subject to increasing federal and state scrutiny, particularly those pharmacies that diagnose patients and/or prescribe drugs for these patients as part of their online services. See You Can Get Anything You Want: Internet Pharmacies Overstep Boundaries and Viagra Prescriptions on the Internet: Is this Telemedicine?

Texas House Bill 99, passed into law by the 77th Texas Legislature, amends the Texas Occupations Code to require the Texas State Board of Pharmacy (TSBP) to adopt rules regulating the sale and delivery of drugs by use of the Internet. The bill also authorizes a complaint directed to TSBP to be made via the Internet. Effective November 1, 2001, pharmacies that maintain an Internet site and sell or distribute drugs via the Internet are required to link their sites to the TSBP web site. The link must be on the pharmacy’s initial home page and, if the pharmacy sells drugs through its site, on the page where the sale occurs. The linking requirement contained in § 562.1045 of the Occupations Code only applies to a pharmacy that "maintains a generally accessible Internet site and sells or distributes drugs through the Internet." It is clear that the statute applies to Internet pharmacies such as the Pillbox Pharmacy. Indeed, the home page for Pillbox does contain (without explanation) a link to the TSBP web site at http://www.tsbp.state.tx.us. The TSBP web site contains: information allowing license verification for pharmacies; an on-line complaint form; and other consumer information.

It is not clear whether the statute applies to "bricks and mortar" pharmacies that allow patients to re-order prescriptions online to be picked up and paid for in a local pharmacy. Apparently, pharmacies such as Walgreens believe the law does not apply to their operations. Even though they advertise "door-to-door" delivery of prescriptions for a charge of $1.95, the Walgreens pharmacy home page does not have a link to the TSBP web site. See http://www.walgreens.com/pharmacy/ visited Nov. 10, 2001.

Some other states have already enacted laws regulating Internet pharmacies. Indiana requires Internet pharmacies providing medications to its residents to comply with Indiana’s licensure and drug substitution laws. A mail order or Internet based pharmacy is defined as a pharmacy that is either located in Indiana or is a nonresident pharmacy that dispenses prescription drugs to patients in Indiana through postal or other delivery services or after receiving a request for prescription drugs through the Internet. See IN ST 25-26-18-1 (West 2000). "Nonresident pharmacy" is defined as a pharmacy located outside Indiana that dispenses drugs or devices through the United States Postal Service or other delivery services to patients in Indiana. See IN ST 25-26-17-2 (West 2000).

Illinois amended its pharmacy practice act to allow the Department of Professional Regulation to regulate the dispensing of medications by Internet pharmacies. The statute requires that nonresident pharmacies register with the state subject to several conditions. The nonresident pharmacy must be licensed in the state in which the dispensing facility is located and from which the drugs are dispensed. It must disclose the location, names, and titles of all principal corporate officers and all pharmacists who are dispensing drugs to Illinois residents. The pharmacy must maintain adequate records, and must provide a toll free telephone number not less than 6 days per week to facilitate communication between Indiana patients and a pharmacist at the pharmacy who has access to the patients’ records. See Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 225 para. 85/16a (a)(b) (West 2000). New Hampshire has amended its statute to include Internet pharmacies in the definition of mail-order pharmacies, and to require such pharmacies to register with the state and obtain a permit before delivering drugs within New Hampshire. See N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 318:1, 318:37 (West 2000).