Prescription Laws

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Oversight of prescription drugs and laws is part of the mission of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency that regulates many of the most essential substances and devices. Biologics (vaccines, blood products), animal feed and drugs, cosmetics, and radiation-emitting products (cell phones, lasers), all fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA. As part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the FDA shares responsibility for the safety of the drugs prescribed by health workers.

With the rise of prescription-filling from Canadian firms for Americans, the FDA has also stepped in to make clear that most transactions of this nature violate United States law. Nevertheless, such prescriptions continue to be filled, and, in fact, can be filled online. This is a hot issue, as it is part of a general debate in this country over prescription drug costs and senior drug availability.

Brand Names Versus Generics

The FDA has responsibility for brand name drugs, of course, but it also regulates generics, those drugs that are supposed to be interchangeable with brand name products. This issue of interchangeability directly affects the formularies of hospitals, health plans, and medical practitioners across the nation. Each medical entity must determine which drugs will be prescribed by its physicians and healthcare workers.

This determination depends on the relative costs of brand names versus generics, and the effectiveness of the generic drug compared to that of the brand name. In turn, the formularies dictate which medicines workers may prescribe to patients who are members of the health plan or who seek medical treatment at a particular hospital. The laws that affect the prescribing of medications are extensive, and reach from the state level to the federal government.

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