The long arm of illegal internet pharmacies

Many illegal online outlets distribute dangerous and addictive drugs without a valid prescription or medical supervision, and this contributes to drug abuse, customer endangerment and increased healthcare costs. 

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy reviewed more than 10,860 internet drug outlets and found that 96 percent of them didn't comply with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards. Of the noncompliant sites, 88 percent do not require a valid prescription, 12 percent dispense controlled substances and 91 percent are apparently connected to rogue networks of internet drug outlets, an NABP report noted.

Fueling this problem is how quickly criminals adapt to measures intended to stop manipulation of online search results, reported eWeek. Fraudulent links dominate results for pharmaceutical searches, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon and Southern Methodist Universities. Black market operations selling counterfeit drugs, for example, can pay to rig search engines to boost their sites' rankings in search results. Counterfeiting medicines is a lucrative and growing scheme in the United States and abroad, with payers often footing the bill.

"When people try to go after online pharmacies, they go after the sites themselves," Carnegie Mellon Professor Nicolas Christin told eWeek. "But that seems to be an approach that is not very fruitful. You take one down and it is very easy to create another one."

Finally, corporate titans are getting caught in the illegal pharmaceuticals web. To settle a shareholder lawsuit, Google Inc. agreed to spend up to $250 million to help curb online activities that threaten Google users, the Wall Street Journal reported. The lawsuit alleged that the company knowingly accepted ads from online pharmacies, which led to illegal import of prescription drugs that exposed users to mislabeled or tainted medicine.

And in what's been called an unprecedented case addressing responsibility along the drug supply chain, FedEx Corporation was indicted for shipping drugs for illegal online pharmacies. A federal grand jury charged the company last summer with 15 counts of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and misbranded drugs and drug trafficking.

For more:
- here's the NAPB abstract and report (.pdf)
- view the eWeek article
- read the WSJ article

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