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    Morning-After Pill Intensifies Internet Prescribing Debate

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    "We actually looked very carefully at the state laws. ... We employed outside counsel to thoroughly research both federal and state laws for online prescribing," says Markus of the Planned Parenthood approach.

    McGinnis says consumers should beware about buying drugs online from "rogue sites," which typically don't offer a phone number or a business address. That could mean the operators are hiding from the authorities. Legitimate sites want you to know who they are, he says.

    For the "do's and don'ts" of Internet buying, McGinnis suggests checking the FDA's web site, www.fda.gov. "We try to keep it as simple as possible for the consumer because this has been a hot issue for the last two years now," he says.

    Although there was pending federal legislation last year that would have required Internet sites to present a "Good Housekeeping" seal as a condition of doing business, the measures died before they could be debated. Meanwhile, it's up to state medical and pharmacy boards to keep tabs on web pharmacies.

    McGinnis says that 42 states now require certification as a "Verified Internet Pharmacy" by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy as a condition of doing business on the web. Still, that doesn't included police powers for those who violate the rules.

    "Most of these online rogue sites, ... the patient doesn't even know who the doctor is," McGinnissays.

    The e-prescription business will hit an estimated $15 billion in the U.S. by the year 2004. Even though more than 20 million Americans are thought to use the Internet to obtain healthcare information, critics in Congress have scored the FDA for inadequately regulating this new medium.

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