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Should credit card issuers police online narcotic sales?

Emily Crone

A few months ago I wrote an article about the crackdown on online gambling, and the burden being placed on credit card issuers to police illegal transactions. Now, some are hoping credit card companies will do the same for online prescription drug purchases.

The Christian Science Monitor recently published an article discussing how prescription medicines are available online for credit card purchase, and how this is dangerous for teenagers equipped with plastic. The article says that while tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are abused more frequently than prescription narcotics, “many young people wrongly believe that prescription painkillers, even if taken without a prescription, are not addictive and are much safer than street drugs.”

Prescription drug abuse is something that needs to be taken more seriously. I’ve been pleased to see recent commercials warning parents that they unwittingly may be their childrens’ new drug dealer. I lost a dear friend a year and a half ago to a lethal cocktail of Xanax (anti-anxiety medicine), alcohol and methadone, a medicine originally used to treat heroin addiction, but is now prescribed as a potent and often deadly (even when used legally) painkiller. We don’t think he really even knew what methadone was.

Despite the dangers of prescription drugs, people can search online and find thousands of sites offering the medicine without prescriptions. The Christian Science Monitor article says the Web sites are based in countries that can’t be punished by American laws: “A site selling Vicodin without a prescription can be created on a computer in Uzbekistan, registered to a business address in Pakistan and deposit payments to a Cayman Islands bank.”

While many of the prescription drugs sold online are dangerous and illegal without prescription in the United States, it’s important to note that some drugs sold online aren’t even the real thing — they can be fake or laced with hazardous materials.

According to the CSM article, California’s senior Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is working on legislation that would create “tougher standards for what constitutes a valid online prescription,” though the sites are still able to utilize American search engines, Internet service providers and credit card companies.

“Specifically, credit card companies and their sponsoring financial institutions should prohibit the use of their services for illicit sales of controlled substances and should enforce that prohibition,” the article says. “A credit card company could easily identify customers involved in such sales by putting through a ‘test’ order when it learns of a Web site offering drugs illegally and accepting its credit card for payment.” The article says credit card companies should notify U.S. law enforcement when such a site is found, who would then be obligated to notify ISPs, search engines and delivery companies.

Another issue to combat would be the ads search engines profit from. The article offers a solution that I find interesting, but too far-fetched: “Search engines that profit from ads attached to their listings of Vicodin sources — such ads include ‘Buy prescriptions’ and ‘No prescription needed. Overnighted totally legal. Want to know how?’ — should automatically provide a banner warning that such purchases are illegal and describe the dangers of the drug whenever searches for such terms are requested.”

Is it really that easy? Will credit card companies be willing to comply after, in response to the online gambling issue, they said it is law enforcement’s duty, not theirs, to police illegal transactions? What do you think?

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  • Robert Fisher

    Give me a Break ! Where will it stop we have so many laws now we have to be careful talking on the phone just look at gov spitzer a religious guy he has done many good things! but got cought on a private phone line set up! to catch terrorist we must be free and take responsibility for our selves or these laws can and will be used against us so the poor suffering person with an absests tooth or post back surgery who can’t have access to a dr. or the state he lives in has such med e veal laws that the mds are scared to death to prescribe it? remember this medicine is a GOD sent to millions of people that certenly don’t deserve to be turned over to the police!! if one of my kids were doing this they would would probley be abusing other things like alcohol and caffeine drinks and so on. WE cant afford to lose any more freedom because teens are doing stupid stuff !! WE must take RESPONSEABLtY. OUR selfs and for our kids PLEASE NO MORE BAD LAWS REMEMBER YOU WILL need these meds one day and will not get re leaf because we turned these meds from a god sent in to something evil Evan if you thought you doing the right thing!! We cant keep every thing away from the wrong people! we must watch the ones most likly but not this way laws will not stop kids thae will find something else even more dangerous.

  • John Quinn

    The banks have no problem with peolple using credit cards for purchasing porno over the internet, or telephone run gambling services,or using the card to buy alchohol and cigarettes.
    I say leave the merchants alone or remove the credit card payment option for all of these gray area products. The credit card companies are like leagalized loan sharks, its very easy to get in over your head @25% intrest. And then to turn around and say “We don’t want anyone using the card for anything that might be illeagal” Let the end user worry about that, and stay out of other peoples business.