Microsoft and Yahoo Announce Changes to Online Advertising of Pharmaceuticals

The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) commends mainstream search engines Microsoft and Yahoo for their recent decision requiring U.S. pharmaceutical advertisers to be accredited by the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program in order to advertise online.

Google was the first engine to require pharmaceutical advertisers to be VIPPS-accredited, a move the PSM commended and encouraged other search engines to emulate.

The changes will place a much-needed barrier between rogue Internet pharmacies and unwitting consumers, said PSM Vice President Bryan Liang, MD, PhD, JD.

“Last year, my research group published the first study identifying the patient safety risks of buying from search engine-sponsored online drug sellers that used suspect third party “verification” services that did little to ensure patient safety,” said Dr. Liang. “Confirming our work, other assessments have found that 80 to 90 percent of search engine-sponsored online pharmacies violated federal and state laws—including the sale of substandard and counterfeit drugs and addictive controlled substances without a prescription,” said Liang. “We believe that online pharmacies need to follow the same rules as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, and this is a significant step toward mitigating the threat of unsafe medicines available for purchase online.”

Scott LaGanga, PSM’s executive director, agreed adding, “This is a major turning point in the arena of Internet pharmacies, one that will help make the online marketplace safer for Americans.”

When asked to comment, Carmen Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards Pharmacy (NABP), which created the VIPPS program, voiced enthusiasm over the changes.

“This change among major search engines is a significant win for patient safety,” said Catizone. “VIPPS-accredited websites are important resources for consumers and will help them make informed choices about where to purchase medications.”

The new requirements will also have an impact on illicit drug sellers. “We’ll see rogue websites adversely affected by these changes through a loss of business,” added Catizone. “However, we need to dedicate more funds to regulatory agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) so that they are better equipped to prevent illicit pharmaceutical products from entering the supply system.”

Echoing these sentiments, LaGanga noted that “Criminals selling counterfeit or unapproved drugs online are beyond the reach of FDA regulators and investigators. We’re in need of resources, as well as new legislation that prohibits financial transactions for drug sales of unlicensed online pharmacies, and creates substantive penalties for any party that engages in the illegal sale of counterfeit and contraband drugs.”