Currently, online pharmacies are illegal in every state. But with his new bill, Provo State Senator Curt Bramble aims to make Utah the first exception.
Companies have been negotiating for years with the state to legitimize prescribing medications online. Currently, KwikiMed.com is the only online pharmacy sanctioned by the U.S. government, and in 2002 KwikiMed consented to an agreement with Utah to only sell “lifestyle drugs,” meaning pills for erectile dysfunction, hair restoration or smoking cessation.
Outside Utah, laws require an established doctor-patient relationship or at least a physical examination; hence, merely filling out an online questionnaire does not meet that statute and therefore blurs the line between being a patient and being a customer, which is what worries both the Utah Medical Association and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
Additionally, most online pharmacies wish to sell a wide variety of prescribed medication while KwikiMed is allowed a very short list of lifestyle drugs. Senator Bramble advocates legislation that would not only extend this list to other online companies willing to comply, but also make Utah the first and only state in the country that validates online prescriptions.
But will a Utah system be exploited? Prescription drug abuse abounds nationwide and is even an issue here on campus (as discussed in last October 5th’s issue of THE V), and it only worsens with each year. Online privacy is also an issue; releasing your information online is always a risk but it’s even more precarious to release your medical information to any online pharmaceutical company when there are no laws in place to protect you and no authority you can contact to seek recourse if you get swindled by money launderers who are fronting as an online drugstore.
It’s difficult not to be suspicious of Bramble himself. Bramble believes that the right kind of legislation can guarantee legitimate regulation of online pharmacies and has stated that many online companies and groups (like Planned Parenthood of Utah) wish to set up shop in Utah, as some complain that KwikiMed has a state monopoly. But short of Viagra and birth control pills, it’s difficult to imagine how big a market there would be with such a short list of authorized drugs.
Additionally, although he has mainly served on several committees, Bramble was awarded National Legislator of the Year in 2008 by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that, according to their website, drafts model legislation that often eventually gets “enacted into law.” Friendly with George Bush, ALEC is funded by conservative groups, and was exposed last year by The Atlantic for working behind the scenes to oppose Obama’s health care reform. It has also been accused of reversing environmental bills by the Natural Resources Defense Council and has been called a front for big business, like the tobacco industry, by watchdog groups.
This isn’t to suggest that Bramble has a hidden agenda. But there doesn’t seem to be (as of yet) much demand in Utah for sanctioning online pharmacies, and the topic now has a champion with a decade of relatively quiet lawmaking and ties to a right-wing organization who wants the state to legitimize a large but problematic drug business. Given these facts, not to mention that Utah’s blazing this trail could affect the future of online pharmacies in the U.S., it isn’t clear whether Bramble is serving the interests of the pharmaceutical industry or the patients and constituents of Utah.