PSM Profiles the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies

In mid-May 2010, a collection of leaders in the pharmaceutical space joined to launch the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), of which the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) is an educating party. We caught up with Libby Baney, an advisor at B&D Consulting who counsels the Alliance, to learn more about its mission.

PSM: Tell us how the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies came to be. Who all is involved with this project?

Libby Baney: The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies began in the fall of 2009 when an initial group of stakeholders from varying organizations got together to discuss the public health threat created by illegal online drug sellers. These individuals and entities operate in violation of state and federal laws, sell prescription medications without requiring a valid prescription, and/or dispense counterfeit, substandard, or non-FDA approved medications.

ASOP is led by a Steering Group that includes the American Pharmacists Association, Eli Lilly & Company, LegitScript and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. ASOP also benefits from the interest of a number of Observers who participate in ASOP meetings—and support the Alliance's mission—but are not voting members. ASOP Observers include the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies, National Health Council and the Partnership for Safe Medicines.

PSM: What is your mission statement and how do you intend to fulfill it?

LB: ASOP seeks to protect patient safety and ensure patient access to safe and legitimate online pharmacies. We'd like to see Internet access and payment stakeholders work in concert with the government to ensure that search results, domain names, promotional ads and payment mechanisms are only available to legitimate online pharmacies that sell FDA-approved medicines to U.S. patients in compliance with federal and state law.

We're fulfilling this mission by engaging with key government stakeholders including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC). We're also taking steps to encourage government action to increase enforcement on and elimination of illegal online drug sellers. We also are working on public awareness efforts to educate people about the dangers of buying medications online.

PSM: In February, Google changed its advertising policy for pharmaceuticals in the U.S. and Canada. Just a few days ago, Microsoft and Yahoo! also changed their policies for U.S. sponsored search results. What's your take on this? What next steps would you like to see?

LB: ASOP commends Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! for changing their policies to restrict advertisements targeting the U.S. from illegal online drug sellers—these policies may make the online marketplace safer for consumers and improve the overall relevance of their search results. We encourage other search engines to consider adopting similar policies to help protect consumers.

PSM: How can other individuals or organizations get involved with the Alliance?

LB: People interested in ASOP should contact us directly at 703-539-ASOP (2767) or via our website at www.safeonlinerx.com.

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