Consideration Of S.980, The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act Of 2007

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, today the Senate will pass by unanimous consent S.980, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act.  This is an important bill that would create potent new tools for law enforcement to prosecute those who illegally sell drugs online, and allow state authorities to shut down online pharmacies even before they get started.  

I thank Senator Feinstein and Senator Sessions for their commitment to combating illicit drug trafficking by online predators.  Through their hard work and diligent efforts, they have put together a strong bipartisan bill that includes important modifications and clarifications that will protect our children and grandchildren from purchasing illegal dangerous drugs online and reducing the prevalence of rogue online pharmacies in our society. 

As the longtime co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus, I understand full well the growing danger that illegitimate online pharmacies pose to youth.  I am pleased to join the bill’s sponsors in support of this legislation.  I am also very pleased that several of my recommendations to improve the bill were included in this legislation.

This bill could not come at a more urgent time for our Nation.  In the Digital Age, the Internet has enabled all Americans better access to convenient and more affordable medicine.  Unfortunately, the prevalence of rogue online pharmacies has also made the Internet increasingly a source for the sale of dangerous controlled substances without a licensed medical practitioner’s valid prescription.  Online drug traffickers have used evolving tactics to evade detection by law enforcement and circumvent the proper constraints of doctors and pharmacists. 

The check and security provided by our local pharmacists in local pharmacies -- those who have served Americans for generations and helped us get well and stay well -- is not always replicated online.  As a result, dangerous and addictive prescription drugs are too often only a click away.


Last May, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on this issue.  We heard compelling testimony from Francine Haight, a mother whose teenage son died from an overdose of painkillers he purchased online from a rogue pharmacy.  We also heard from Joseph Califano, the former Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  Both strongly supported legislation to fill a gap in existing law and help protect young people from illicit drugs online. 


Following our hearing, the Internet Drug Advisory Committee held a briefing for the Judiciary Committee on this matter.  We heard from various members of the Internet community on how the private sector may effectively collaborate with the public sector to combat the sales of dangerous drugs online.  These private sector groups will be vital in that effort, and we were happy to receive the benefit of their insights.


The administration supports this bill – and that is the right thing to do.  I know that our hard working men and women at the Drug Enforcement Agency need the added tools this bill would offer to assist their efforts to combat rogue online pharmacies.  Even more, our children and grandchildren need the safety and security of operating online free from drug dealers seeking to trick them into purchasing dangerous controlled substances.


The Judiciary Committee reported an amendment in the form of a substitute which includes several recommendations I have made to improve the bill and make it more effective.  These changes were later perfected and improved upon after the bill was reported out of Committee.


I am pleased that the amendment includes my suggestion that the Drug Enforcement Administration report to Congress on recommendations to combat the online sale of controlled substances from foreign countries via the Internet and on ways that the private sector can assist in this effort.  A key ingredient in diminishing the impact of rogue websites on American citizens is combating the international aspect of this problem, and strengthening the public-private sector collaboration can help provide a solution.  


The amendment narrows the U.S. Sentencing Commission directive to ensure that the most dangerous prescription drugs abused online are treated more severely than less harmful prescription drugs.  This addition will ensure that the Commission has clear guidance to issue the guidelines necessary to hold those individuals who peddle dangerous prescription drugs to minors online are held accountable.


The amendment also protects legitimate retail drug chains with online websites for customers seeking refills on prescriptions, by exempting them from the bill’s requirements.  This ensures that the bill does not target legitimate pharmacies that provide Vermonters and other Americans with access to needed medicines, nor does it burden legitimate pharmacies with additional registration and reporting requirements.


I believe this bill will be even better with these changes.  I am confident that this legislation will strengthen our Nation’s ability to effectively combat online drug trafficking.  It furthers the goals of drug enforcement and deterrence, while also providing Congress with additional oversight tools.  I support its passage. 


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