Yahoo Fails to Address Counterfeit Drugs in Remarks to FDA

At the end of February, the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) answered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) call for comments on their docket concerning the Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools.

We submitted our recommendations on the tail of Google’s change to its online advertising policies, requiring online pharmacies in the U.S. to be accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Verifiable Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program. The changes cut out third-party verifiers like PharmacyChecker, leaving VIPPS as the lone online pharmacy accreditation program for drug advertisers in the U.S.

We had hoped that following Google’s announcement, as well as the FDA spotlight on how drug sellers interact with users on the Internet, other search engines would follow Google’s lead.

However, we were disappointed to find that Yahoo failed to address the threat of unscrupulous advertisers using Yahoo’s service to peddle counterfeit and illicit medical products.

This is particularly disconcerting as a recent investigation of Yahoo and Microsoft’s online drug advertising found that 80-90 percent of reviewed ads from drug sellers did not require a prescription or were acting unlawfully.

Instead, Yahoo chiefly centered its remarks around product safety information listed in Web-based advertisements and limitations on policing and verifying the legitimacy of user-generated content on social networking sites.

But the conversation about the promotion of pharmaceuticals online is incomplete unless you address the need for regulation of Internet drug sellers—including online pharmacies—and advertisements from illicit advertisers and the search engine companies profiting from them.

As Yahoo wrote, “each month, 91 million Americans use the Internet to access health information at over 1,700 dedicated health sites,” and consumers need to be “provided with health-related information in a manner that is truthful and balanced.”

We couldn’t agree more. However, that information—including advertisements for prescription drugs and medical products—should be safe and trustworthy, as well.