Pet owners who order products from Internet pharmacies soon may be able to look for a seal of accreditation from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
The NABP began the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites program in 1999 to provide voluntary accreditation to online pharmacies that dispense human medications. This year, the group has launched a veterinary version of VIPPS to accredit online pharmacies that dispense prescription drugs for companion animals and horses.
The NABP created Vet-VIPPS partly in response to concerns from state pharmacy boards that have received complaints about online veterinary pharmacies dispensing prescription drugs outside a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
"The state boards of pharmacy approached NABP and saw VIPPS as the best means possible to help them and consumers differentiate between legitimate sites and illegal or rogue sites," said Carmen A. Catizone, RPh, DPh, NABP executive director.
The AVMA Position Statement on Internet Pharmacies recognizes the VIPPS seal as identifying lawful online pharmacies.
"It gives the prescriber and the patient/client some assurance that they're dealing with a legitimate, licensed firm," agreed Dr. Charles A. Lemme, who serves as a member of the AVMA Clinical Practitioners Advisory Committee, representing the American Animal Hospital Association.
The AVMA policy on Internet pharmacies notes issues not only with companies initiating prescriptions inappropriately but also with companies importing drugs that have not received approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The Vet-VIPPS criteria for accreditation extend beyond requiring online veterinary pharmacies to follow state and federal regulations. Internet pharmacies displaying the Vet-VIPPS seal also must demonstrate that they meet criteria for protection of patient privacy, authentication and security of prescription orders, adherence to a quality assurance policy, and provision of meaningful consultation between clients and pharmacists.
Dr. Catizone said the Vet-VIPPS program has attracted interest, though the NABP has not accredited any online veterinary pharmacies yet.
"NABP has received a number of inquiries from all sectors of veterinary medicine and pharmacy," Dr. Catizone said.
Eventually, according to the NABP, pet owners will be able to search the Vet-VIPPS site for an Internet pharmacy that meets their needs. The NABP also will list online veterinary pharmacies that it does not recommend, just as the group now lists illegal or rogue Internet pharmacies that dispense human medications.
Dr. Lemme thinks that online veterinary pharmacies are here to stay. He added that clients at his practice—Blairs Ferry Pet Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—turn to Internet pharmacies mostly for long-term medications.
The AVMA policy on Internet pharmacies states that veterinarians should honor client requests to prescribe rather than dispense drugs, in keeping with the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics, and notes that clients have the option of filling prescriptions at any pharmacy.
Dr. Lemme said he'd advise clients who order from online veterinary pharmacies to look for the Vet-VIPPS seal.
"The vast majority of our clients are really interested not just in saving money but also in getting a quality drug for their pet," Dr. Lemme said.