PSM’s Liang in JAMA: Online Direct to Consumer Advertising’s Impact on Illegal Online Pharmacies

Washington, D.C. (February 25, 2011) Partnership for Safe Medicines Board of Directors’ member Bryan A. Liang, MD, PhD, JD, with colleague Tim Mackey, MAS, published an article in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) addressing the online direct to consumer (DTC) advertising market, and specifically how rogue online pharmacies have adopted these tools to illegally sell suspect products.

"Pharmaceutical advertising — DTC to health care providers — must be a fair and balanced reflection of a product's benefits and risks and may not be false or misleading in any way. It is concerning that illegal online drug sellers are taking advantage of the emergence of online DTC advertising to push their fake drugs on unsuspecting consumers,” said PSM Board Member Dr. Marv Shepherd, Director, Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies at the University of Texas-Austin. “The internet knows no bounds, and neither do the criminals who sell drugs online illegally. This is yet another example of why we must continue to fight for a sustained coordinated global effort to shut down illegal online pharmacies." 

In the article, Dr. Liang and Mr. Mackey outline how illegal online pharmacies have adopted DTC advertising approaches like legitimate companies. This makes it difficult for consumers to differentiate between the two, including in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. This blurs the line between licit and illicit online advertisements and sellers, and is a potentially dangerous situation for American consumers. 

"Given the serious global health issue we are fighting with criminals counterfeiting medicines, the fact that they are adapting their illegal ways to the development of the Internet  only exacerbates the problem. U.S. regulators must coordinate with their counterparts across the globe or else our domestic efforts will be stymied by the global realities of this marketplace," continued Shepherd. "On behalf of PSM, I commend Bryan and his colleague Mr. Mackey for bringing this issue to the forefront."