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9/12/2001

VIPPS Program Suspends Online Pharmacy

Donna Young

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program has, for the first time, suspended certification of an online pharmacy.

Moira Gibbons, VIPPS manager, said PrescriptionOnline Inc. of Las Vegas was temporarily suspended on August 3 because of possible noncompliance with the "terms of the program’s letter of agreement."

"The pharmacy is currently under review while we gather more information," Gibbons said. "We have certain procedures we follow to resolve the issues. There has not been a final determination at this time."

NABP lists 14 pharmacies on its Web site as VIPPS certified.

Michael Cosenza, PrescriptionOnline’s general manager, said the temporary suspension is a result of a problem his company had with the Nevada pharmacy-licensing agency.

"What occurred is that someone acted above their responsibility with our renewal application with the state board of Nevada," he said.

Cosenza said PrescriptionOnline’s pharmacy director made mistakes in completing the Nevada licensing-renewal application and failed to notify the state board of pharmacy about changes in the company’s shareholders.

"She was not a corporate officer and did not have the authority to complete the application," he said. "But she said all she was concerned about was getting our license renewed."

Cosenza said the pharmacy director is no longer with his company.

PrescriptionOnline had earlier notified the Nevada secretary of state’s office of the change in shareholders, Cosenza said.

"So, when the licensing board saw that our application didn’t match what we had told the secretary of state’s office, they said we had filed a fraudulent application on the renewal," he said.

After a review of PrescriptionOnline’s licensing application, Nevada’s state board of pharmacy charged the company more than $500 for investigation costs and then reinstated its license, Cosenza said.

"We notified all of the states where we are licensed about the Nevada findings," he said. "And then we notified NABP and the VIPPS people. And then they said we were temporarily suspended."

In order to be VIPPS qualified, a pharmacy must comply with the licensing and inspection requirements of its state and each state in which pharmaceuticals are dispensed, according to NABP. VIPPS-certified pharmacies must also demonstrate that they protect patients’ right to privacy, authenticate and securely store prescription orders, adhere to a recognized quality-assurance policy, and provide meaningful consultation between patients and pharmacists.

Cosenza said PrescriptionOnline paid NABP the $1000 required to appeal the suspension. He said his company is also responsible for covering any additional costs associated with the appeals process, including transportation, accommodations, and meals for VIPPS appellate-commission members.

"Our attorney said it could cost us thousands of more dollars," he said. "But we went through all the cost and the process to get our company to be VIPPS certified, so we want to do what is necessary to stay a member," he said.

Cosenza said the total application process cost his company between $30,000 and $40,000.

"You have to pay for all of their expenses while they investigate all of your records," he said.

VIPPS application fees range between $1000 and $4000, with an annual participation fee of $500–$3500, according to the letter of agreement. The program charges a compliance review fee of $1000 per inspector per day. Companies seeking the certification are also responsible for covering all travel expenses for the VIPPS inspectors during the review process.

NABP grants VIPPS-certified pharmacies a license to display the VIPPS seal. The seal acts as a direct Internet link to the VIPPS Web site where consumers can confirm a pharmacy’s certification.

During the appeals process, PrescriptionOnline was required to remove the VIPPS seal from its Web site and all other materials, Gibbons said.

"We get 100,000 hits to our site per day," Cosenza said. "Right now, we just want to concentrate on the growth of our company."

New Hampshire Web Site Lists Online and Mail-Order Pharmacies

The New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy has a new consumer-oriented Web page that lists all of the out-of-state online and mail-order pharmacies registered to do business with residents.

Paul Boisseau, the board’s executive director, said the list is not an endorsement of the pharmacies, but is a service to consumers to help them identify legitimate online and mail-order pharmacies.

"It is one more step of assurance that these are legitimate pharmacies and that they are licensed by the respective boards of pharmacy in their state of domicile," Boisseau said. "There are so many rogue operators out there—at least two or three for every legitimate operation."

To be registered in New Hampshire as an out-of-state online or mail-order pharmacy, the pharmacy must provide the state board of pharmacy with documentation of licensure in the state in which the prescriptions are dispensed, maintain a toll-free telephone number for consumers, and pay a $150 registration fee.

Boisseau said the list was developed particularly for senior citizens.

"The board felt we needed something so that senior citizens would not go blindfolded when trying to buy prescriptions at a lower cost and end up with some willy-nilly company," he said.

Boisseau said the state board of pharmacy provides a hard copy of the list for residents who do not have access to the Internet.

"We especially encourage senior groups to contact us for the list," he said.

Boisseau said New Hampshire consumers should also contact the state board of pharmacy if they plan to buy medications from an online or mail-order pharmacy not on the list. "We will be happy to check them out."

Not all states register out-of-state online and mail-order pharmacies.

Boisseau said New Hampshire passed legislation in 2000 that allows out-of-state online and mail-order companies to do business in the state. The state implemented its law in April, and the list of out-of-state registered pharmacies was posted on the board’s Web site in August.

The list identifies which online pharmacies have been certified as Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

NABP has said it initiated the VIPPS certification program n 1999 in response to the public’s concern about the safety of pharmacy practices offered on the Internet.

The VIPPS program is not regulatory, but voluntary. Each state’s board of pharmacy, in addition to FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration, regulates online and mail-order pharmacies.

The New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy’s list of out-of-state registered mail-order and online pharmacies is available at www.state.nh.us/pharmacy/molist.html