Rogue Online Pharmacies Still a Real Threat

Last week, it was announced Google agreed to pay $500 million in fines for knowingly allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise to U.S. consumers. Currently, it is illegal to import prescription drugs into the United States.

The news of the settlement isn’t shocking and had been expected for many months but it did present another instance to call into question Google’s policies when it comes to protecting intellectual property online, which in the case of online pharmacies could be considered reckless. Regardless of opinions, this news now provides me with the opportunity to highlight the potential dangers from buying drugs online and what is being done to ensure the safety of consumers.

While many legitimate websites do exist that provide consumers with lower cost prescription drugs, unfortunately there are just as many, if not more rogue sites that have the look and feel of a legitimate online pharmacy. According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, counterfeit drug sales account for about $75 billion in global sales and many are purchased via an authentic looking online site. An estimated 1 percent to 2 percent of drugs in North America are counterfeit.

Fortunately, in recent years, industry has come together (Google included) to work to target websites that peddle in counterfeit medicines and stop them from doing business. Additionally, in February 2010, Google changed its policy and now only take ads from U.S. pharmacies accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, and from online pharmacies in Canada that are accredited by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. (better late than never?)

The problem of rogue counterfeit websites is not going away anytime soon and to combat the proliferation of these sites is going to take cooperation from both public and private interests and, ultimately, consumers who learn the difference between a legitimate site and illegitimate site.