- by David Goldstein -
The availability of online opioids continues to be devastating for many people around the world. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 41 Americans died every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2018 while the National Safety Council reported opioid overdose deaths surpassed traffic-related fatalities in 2017.
Research performed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in the US during the first half of 2019 confirmed the continued online availability of controlled substances, including opioids. During the first half of 2019, NABP identified more than 1,500 websites operating out of compliance with pharmacy laws or patient safety standards. Nearly a third of these websites offered or facilitated the sale of opioids or other controlled substances.
In an attempt to tackle the problem, the US government through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced a four-month pilot programme in June targeting the illegal advertisement and sale of prescription opioids and illicit narcotics online. The pilot will include three of the biggest domain name registries in the United States: Neustar (.us), Verisign (.com, .net), and Public Interest Registry (.org).
During the pilot the FDA will send a warning letter to the domain name registrant/website operator of any website offering illegal opioids. The FDA’s role in the notification process is intended to help expedite the process of thwarting illegal activity online.
Should the domain name registrants not comply with agency warning letters, the registries will have several voluntary pathways to mitigate harm to consumers and the proliferation of dangerous content online through:
Following the four-month pilot, the FDA and NTIA will assess the findings of the pilot and potential effectiveness of lock-and-suspend protocol to combat illegal online drug sellers. Amid the confluence of the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shifted much of consumer purchasing online, the results of this pilot could prove critical in reducing improper access to opioids and other controlled substances and further addressing their misuse, abuse and diversion.