Earlier today, the Guardian’s Technology Blog posted a malware roundup to alert readers of scams and spam making their way around the Internet.

Disturbingly, author Chris Arthur found that a known rogue pharmacy has set up shop on Twitter.

The Official Canadian Pharmacy at Canadian-Drugshop.com uses the Twitter handle @canadianshop to boldly display its offerings, including “bestsellers” like erectile dysfunction treatments, prices for each and acceptable payment methods—all accompanied with links to send visitors directly to Canadian-Drugshop.com.

Rouge Pharmacy Using Social Media

LegitScript reviewed the pharmacy in February 2009 and classified it as a rogue online pharmacy—one that:

  1. Violates, appears to violate or encourages violation of federal or state law or regulation;
  2. Does not adhere to accepted standards of medicine and/or pharmacy practice, including standards of safety; and/or
  3. Engages in fraudulent or deceptive business practices.

“Canadian-drugshop.com is an affiliate of the notorious, Russian-based Internet drug ring called GlavMed,” said John Horton, President of LegitScript, the company used by Google to monitor its Internet pharmacy advertisements. “This criminal network consists of thousands of websites—some but not all engage in spam—that sell drugs without a prescription, including fake or unapproved pharmaceutical products. Patients who buy from this website, or the thousands that are like it, risk their own health.”

Horton said that social media is increasingly a target, but that it is possible to keep the space clean. “Twitter, Facebook and other social media programs are popular with marketers for the simple reason that they work as a method of reaching Internet users. Although social media websites can’t police every page on their website, it’s certainly possible to run daily sweeps to identify the fraudulent and bad actors—as a result that improves the overall experience for legitimate users of websites and social networks.”

The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) addressed this very concern in its March remarks to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during its call for comments on the promotion of FDA-regulated medical products using the Internet and social media, encouraging the FDA to monitor social media to pinpoint users who are peddling illicit products online.

PSM encouraged the FDA to work with Twitter and other social networking platforms to verify pharmaceutical accounts, much as Twitter has done with its beta verified accounts for well-known individuals and organizations to prevent identity confusion and allow users to obtain information from authentic sources.

New policies and stiffer penalties for those who participate in counterfeit drug schemes must also be addressed, said PSM Vice President Dr. Bryan Liang, MD, PhD, JD.

“We’ve said before that new policies and legislation must prohibit financial transactions for drug sales of unlicensed pharmacies and create substantive criminal penalties for any party—including websites and search engines—that engage in the illegal sale of contraband or counterfeit drugs,” said Liang. “If the FDA needed further evidence that illicit drug sellers were using the Internet and social media to peddle unsafe medical products, I’d say this is it.”

One thing is clear: unless we press the issue with regulatory bodies, our elected officials and Internet companies, rogue pharmacies like Canadian-Drugshop will continue to pollute these platforms with incentives for dangerous products.