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Online Soma Responsible for Fatal Crash?

KGET in Bakersfield, California ran an interesting story this morning about a woman who was killed in a automobile crash. Her family blames her addiction to Soma, which they say she was getting online:

(The woman’s daughter) says her mom started taking a muscle relaxer called Soma after she hurt her back skiing. But 44-yr-old Laura Clearwater’s family says she quickly became addicted. They say the drug was originally prescribed by a doctor, but then Clearwater started ordering the drugs from an online pharmacy and every week pills arrived at their doorstep.

The article goes on to say that the family thinks that Ms. Clearwater’s addiction to Soma may have been a contributing cause to the accident:

Her family doesn’t know the exact cause of the crash but says they want to warn others about the power of prescription drugs and the deadly addiction that stole their mother’s life. The corner’s office says it has not determined if drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash.

It’s important to acknowledge, of course, what we don’t know from the article: whether Ms. Clearwater was, in fact, under the influence of Soma (which is an addictive drug) at the time of the accident, which online pharmacy was used, whether the online pharmacy is domestic or foreign, which affiliate pharmacy network was involved, and whether it was sending the drugs on the basis of a valid prescription or not.

Yet, we can point out some important facts and draw some safe conclusions. First, Soma is addictive, and along with tramadol (Ultram) and Fioricet, is among the most drugs that are most widely marketed online without a valid prescription being required. Why? It’s because those drugs are a few in a small but dangerous category: recognized as addictive on the prescribing labels, they are nevertheless not federally controlled substances, and thus do not fall under the direct purview of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Second, although we don’t know if Ms. Clearwater was under the influence of Soma at the time of the accident, there’s no question that some people fighting drug addictions drive under the influence of those drugs, and that driving under the influence of drugs (including prescription drugs that alter judgment or reaction time) can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Soma, a muscle relaxant, definitely falls under this category.

Third, the article refers to an important illicit practice commonly used by rogue online pharmacies:

…Clearwater started ordering the drugs from an online pharmacy and every week pills arrived at their doorstep.

We’re seeing this more and more: a very aggressive “automatic refill” practice that doesn’t take into account whether the patient has a genuine need for the drugs, but operates as nothing more than a form of online drug pushing (with automatic credit card debits, of course!). Legitimate Internet pharmacies refill prescriptions as well, so this point isn’t dispositive, but it suggests that a closer look at the online pharmacy’s refill policies is warranted.

Finally, articles like these raise an important question about domain name registrars. A domain name registrar like GoDaddy or eNom doesn’t, in our view, have any potential legal liability for websites like these if they don’t know about the content. After all, registrars can’t be expected to monitor the content of every website they sponsor.

However, domain name registrars have the ability to terminate or suspend websites engaged in illicit activities that they know about. They regularly do this for spam websites, for example.

What if the registrar had been notified by LegitScript that the online pharmacy it was sponsoring was selling these addictive prescription drugs without requiring a valid prescription, yet declined to terminate or suspend the website? Although there are plenty of “causation” issues to be resolved (whether the drugs played a contributing role in the crash), if a registrar knew about the illicit online pharmacy, declined to terminate or suspend the website and continued to profit from the website’s registration, and the online pharmacy subsequently sold the drugs without a valid prescription…

You get the point.