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Internet Search Engines Promote Illegal Online Pharmacies

The Partnership for Safe Medicines, a group of organizations and individuals dedicated to protecting consumers from counterfeit medicines, issued the following statement regarding recent reports released by LegitScript, an online pharmacy verification service, and KnujOn,an Internet compliance company, which found that 80 to 90 percent of search engine-sponsored advertisements of online drug pharmacies violate federal and state laws, including selling substandard or counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting consumers.

The Partnership for Safe Medicines speaks out against dangerous ads for illicit online pharmacies

WASHINGTON—The Partnership for Safe Medicines, a group of organizations and individuals dedicated to protecting consumers from counterfeit medicines, issued the following statement regarding recent reports released by LegitScript, an online pharmacy verification service, and KnujOn,an Internet compliance company, which found that 80 to 90 percent of search engine-sponsored advertisements of online drug pharmacies violate federal and state laws, including selling substandard or counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting consumers.


The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) applauds the research LegitScript and KnujOn are conducting and for highlighting the systemic problems associated with online pharmacy advertisements. Consistent with earlier findings published by PSM’s vice president Bryan A. Liang, search engine companies’ flagrantly disregard public health and safety when they permit an illegal online pharmacy to advertise on their sites. These sellers are not legitimate, licensed online pharmacies; they are criminal operations. LegitScript and KnujOn’s findings confirm the importance of one of the Partnership’s core drug safety principles – any Web site selling prescription drugs to Americans must be subject to the same rigorous oversight and standards that govern legitimate pharmacies in the United States.

“Rogue online pharmacies continue to profit from the sale of counterfeit drugs,” said Marv Shepherd, Ph.D., PSM president and director of the Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Pharmacy. “What’s even more alarming is that Internet search engines are in no way held accountable for hosting and profiting off the illegal online pharmacies who distribute substandard and counterfeit drugs. How long will our policymakers allow search engines to knowingly facilitate the illegal importation and distribution of unsafe medicines?”

“While Congress has passed laws to combat selling prescription drugs online without a prescription, they have failed to include penalties for the search engines advertising these illegal operations,” said Thomas T. Kubic, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Security Institute and PSM board member. “Organizations such as the World Health Organization, domestic agencies, and law enforcement agencies are tied down by the challenges of offshore sellers using the Internet and light penalties associated with these sales. We need to increase the criminal penalties against the perpetrators of counterfeit medicines to reflect the gravity of their offenses.”

Internet search engines claim to protect consumers by verifying the legitimacy of an online drug advertiser using PharmacyChecker.com’s services. However, LegitScript and KnujOn’s latest report revealed that this Web site does not rigorously inspect online pharmacies for quality of product and safety. In fact, the report’s researchers were able to purchase prescriptions from an Internet pharmacy approved by PharmacyChecker.com without a prescription and many of the Web sites claiming to be based in Canada actually shipped drugs originating in India, Singapore or Barbados.

“It is obvious that the existing policies and safeguards Internet search engines have in place do not work,” said Bryan A. Liang, Ph.D., M.D., J.D., executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies and vice president of PSM. “As we discovered in our work, neither search engines nor PharmacyChecker.com are being held accountable for clear violations of state and federal laws, as well as their own requirements, despite being on notice that illicit sales are occurring. No one should be able to purchase prescription drugs, including controlled substances, over the Internet without a valid prescription and physician oversight. But as long as search engines are not held accountable for the profits they make off sponsored ads placed by illegal online pharmacies, this dangerous practice will continue.”

As the problem of counterfeit drugs continues to grow across the globe, especially through online pharmacies, PSM believes steps must be taken in order to limit their distribution and sale.

“Unless the online pharmacy is licensed through a national Internet pharmacy licensing program such as VIPPS, selling drugs via the Internet should be illegal,” continued Dr. Liang. “We need new legislation that prohibits financial transactions for drug sales of unlicensed online pharmacies and creates substantive criminal penalties for any party, including Web sites and search engines, who engage in illegal sale of contraband or counterfeit drugs.”

About the Partnerships for Safe Medicines

The Partnership for Safe Medicines is a group of organizations and individuals that have policies, procedures, or programs to protect consumers from counterfeit or contraband medicines. To join us in our stand against counterfeit drugs or obtain your own copy of the Principles for Drug Safety doctrine, please visit www.SafeMedicines.org

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