A state senator hopes to crack down on Internet sales of "lifestyle drugs" by requiring a bona fide patient-physician relationship before medication can be prescribed.

"This bill is a health and safety bill that will protect the public and others from Internet prescribing of potentially dangerous drugs," Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, told members of a legislative committee Friday morning.

Specifically, Knudson is concerned about the use of the Internet in the abuse of erectile dysfunction medications, which have potential for dangerous side effects. The drugs are "popularly used by young people as an aphrodisiac," not as a medical necessity, he said.

"These lifestyle drugs, when abused by young adults, are most commonly ordered on the Internet," Knudson said.

SB146 is being strongly opposed by an Arizona-based company that fills online prescriptions for the erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra, Cialis and Levitra and the hair-loss medication Propecia.

After a lengthy process involving various stakeholders, the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing entered into a consent order with KwikMed in December 2003.

"The basic sense of the group was that the Internet was indeed going to be the wave of the future for health care and that we could either fight it, like most others have chosen to do, or we could see if there was something that could be done," said Laura Poe, DOPL bureau manager.

No other companies have similar agreements with the state, though at least one organization has expressed interest.

The consent agreement allowed the company to issue online prescriptions after would-be patients successfully completed what the company calls "a meaningful online assessment." Patients are approved or rejected based on a staff physician's review of their answers.

On Friday, KwikMed attorney Kevin Marino told lawmakers the sophisticated online assessment is virtually impossible to fake and the company's policy of requiring an adult signature upon delivery ensures that no minors receive prescription medication.

Utah is the only state that has any type of formal agreement with an online pharmacy, giving KwikMed the right to make the claim on its Web site that it is the only company granted regulatory approval to offer prescriptions with an online diagnosis.

Poe said KwikMed has always been open with the agency, allowing the state to track prescriptions and responding quickly to any complaints the agency has received.

DOPL has taken a neutral position on SB146, saying the matter is a "policy decision."

"We will follow whatever the Legislature tells us to do," Poe said. "Again, we would say that we're comfortable with the consent agreement that we've entered into. It was not entered into lightly, and it's being evaluated on an ongoing basis."

Under the terms of the consent decree, the remedy for a change in state statute affecting the agreement is the court system, meaning a possible lawsuit if SB146 is ultimately approved.

At least one lawmaker expressed concern, however, that the company may simply begin to sell its drugs illegally, as many other online pharmacies do.

Comment on this story

"You can buy Viagra online through any number of tawdry Web sites, and it seems like these folks have actually taken the time to try to provide that service in an upfront, honest and responsible way," said Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, who voted against SB146.

The Utah Medical Association supports the bill, said president Michelle McOmber, because it preserves an important relationship between doctors and patients. Many physicians, especially in rural areas, use the Internet to correspond with patients and give medical advice, but only after the two have established a relationship through in-person contact.

According to her understanding of SB146, that would not be prohibited by the legislation, McOmber said.

The bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with a vote of 3-2. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com