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Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health: History of Google and Online Pharmacies

Americans and others living in America used to see advertisements on Google for low-cost and safe international online pharmacies but now they don’t. That’s because, back in 2010, Google banned all non-U.S. online pharmacies, safe or otherwise, from its advertising platform that targets the United States and its people, a demographic urgently in need of lower drug prices! Why would they do that? Who does that benefit? Who does it hurt?

This week, in our continuing quest to get the truth out and for our elected leaders in Congress to take bold action to protect online access to safe and affordable medication, we’re publishing the next section of our report called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health

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The Google Online Pharmacy Settlement: Why It’s Both Wrong and Right

UPDATED: August 24, 2011, 6:30pm

The United States Department of Justice just announced that Google will be paying a $500 million penalty to the U.S. government for allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise to Americans. We are familiar with this case, having been asked to testify in it – and we are mentioned several times in the settlement.

Although we tried to help Google vet pharmacy advertisers from 2006 to 2009, it is clear that Google was not limiting pharmacy advertisers to just those verified in our Pharmacy Verification Program – as noted on pages 4 and 5 of the settlement. That was bad because it allowed advertising by pharmacies that did not require valid U.S. prescriptions and/or sold controlled substances into the U.S.  – activities which we do not permit in our program. As noted on page 6 of the settlement, the $500 million amount is based on revenues generated from the advertising and sales of “controlled” substances, not all medicines.

On the other hand, we believe that efforts to help Americans find more affordable and safe sources of medication are necessary and should be praised. And Google also did that: Although it can’t anymore – at least not through advertisements  – and we think that’s wrong.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice is publicizing the settlement in a misleading manner that paints all non-U.S. online pharmacies as “patently unsafe,” and “contributing to America’s pill problem”.  Peer-reviewed research shows that buying prescription medications from licensed pharmacies in other countries, and specifically those verified in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program, is safe. Genuine medicines (and no controlled substances) are obtained, typically at savings of 80% or more on brand name medications – and prescriptions are required.  Also, while the DOJ’s announcement emphasizes the illegality of personal drug importation, it fails to mention that individuals, as a matter of FDA’s policies, are not prosecuted for buying non-controlled drugs from outside the U.S. for their own use.

An FDA representative says in today’s announcement that the settlement “demonstrates the commitment of the Food and Drug Administration to protect the US consumer and hold all contributing parties accountable for conduct that results in vast profits at the expense of public health.” While this is in part true, it ignores the fact that much greater profits are being made by pharmaceutical companies at the expense of public health by keeping Americans captive to inflated drug prices. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, 25 million Americans did not take their prescribed medication due to cost in 2009, almost double the number in 1997. Personal drug importation from properly verified and reputable Canadian online pharmacies clearly benefits public health by making drugs more affordable for Americans.

For a take on this situation from the perspective of a knowledgeable physician who purchases his own medicine from abroad, see the recent article by Stephen Barrett, M.D., founder of Pharmwatch.org and Quackwatch.org.

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