Drugs for Sale on the Internet

The NDPA have been concerned for some time about the easy availability of drugs online.   There are sites actively promoting the legalization of drugs, misinformation about drugs, and even sites showing young children smoking cigarettes and encouraging others to do so.   Shocking research showed recently that 8 out of 10 of  UK youngsters watch porn online.   The world wide web has been a tremendous force for good in many ways – but there is a very dark side to the internet.  The following items show the extent of  big business involved in making money out of selling illegal drugs online.   (is Google the Tesco of  the internet ?)


The article below from today’s Wall Street Journal shows the effectiveness of going after companies that aid and facilitate the illicit drug trade. Several years ago, I queried Amazon.com for a book on a particular drug that I was interested in learning more about and along with the responses from the Amazon.com search engine came a pop-up offering to sell me the very drug I was asking about — a Schedule II controlled substance – without a prescription! I wrote a letter to Amazon.com indicating that this could be interpreted as a “facilitation” violation of the Controlled Substances Act and needed to be stopped immediately.

Back came a nice letter (by FedEx) from Amazon.com’s chief counsel  advising me that the company was just as upset and concerned as I but was powerless to stop these “pop-ups.” The chief counsel said that the ad likely was inserted by one of the anonymous servers used to transmit my Internet request to Amazon.com. It seems that data mining software used by the servers detect key words used in emails and unencrypted messages that pass through them and automatically generate unsolicited return messages to the sender offering, as in my case, something for sale. On the basis of what little I knew about all this, I concluded nothing further could be done.

I was wrong! Fortunately, in the interim, brighter minds at my alma mater (DOJ) and elsewhere figured this out and concluded that Google was one of several companies at fault.

A fine of $500  million is a drop in the proverbial bucket for Google. Of potentially greater interest here may be what happens after Google settles the current criminal case. Unlike a civil case in which a defendant may settle without having to admit wrongdoing, a settlement in a criminal case usually requires admissions of guilt to specific law violations. If this is the case, will there be subsequent state actions filed against Google on behalf of harmed residents? Will we begin seeing TV ads asking “If you or a loved one ever ordered drugs via the Internet, call the law offices of so-and-so; you may be eligible for a cash settlement, etc.”?

Given the fact that unregistered Internet “rogue” pharmacies more often than not sell counterfeit drugs or outdated, toxic, and/or ineffective drugs and, in doing so, accept only credit cards or international money orders in payment, I’m sure there are retrievable records of such purchases and possibly aggrieved patients who may have been harmed by products illegally advertised and sold via the Internet and facilitated by the advertising services provided by Google. When all is said and done, the total payout for these potential claims, if indeed they are viable, could be several times the amount of the proposed settlement in the current criminal case against Google. Better yet, it should be enough to end or severely curtail this aspect of modern-day drug dealing.

John J. Coleman, PhD  President, Drug Watch International  2011

Google Near Deal in Drug Ad Crackdown

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576319572448399628.html#ixzz1MGNqwAfe

Google Inc. is close to settling a U.S. criminal investigation into allegations it made hundreds of millions of dollars by accepting ads from online pharmacies that break U.S. laws, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Internet company disclosed in a cryptic regulatory filing earlier this week that it was setting aside $500 million to potentially resolve a case with the Justice Department. A payment of that size would be among the highest penalties paid by companies in disputes with the U.S. government.   Google gave few details in its filing about the probe, saying only that it involved “the use of Google advertising by certain advertisers.”   The federal investigation has examined whether Google knowingly accepted ads from online pharmacies, based in Canada and elsewhere, that violated U.S. laws, according to the people familiar with the matter.

A Google spokesman declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokeswoman.     WSJ’s Thomas Catan reports that Google is close to settling with the government over allegations that the company made millions from illegal ad companies.

Search engines can be liable if they are found to be profiting from illegal activity. In December 2007, the three largest Internet companies, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. agreed to pay a combined $31.5 million fine to settle civil allegations brought by the Justice Department that they had accepted ads from illegal gambling sites.

Prosecutors can charge such acts under a number of different statutes. From a legal standpoint, a key distinction for Google would be that the illegal activity allegedly took place through its paid advertising service, not just the results that its search engine produces.

There are scores of websites that offer to sell prescription drugs. Some violate U.S. laws by selling counterfeit or expired medicines or dispensing without a valid doctor’s prescription.  One question under investigation is the extent to which Google knowingly turned a blind eye to the alleged illicit activities of some of its advertisers—and how much executives knew, the people familiar with the matter said.   The probe has been conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island and the Food and Drug Administration, among other agencies, according to these people. A spokesman for Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the FDA said the investigation was ongoing and declined to comment further.

Google generated nearly $30 billion in total ad revenue in 2010, largely from its AdWords system. AdWords helped revolutionize online advertising, offering marketers the chance to bid to display their ads when people searched for certain keywords on the Google search engine. An advertiser only pays when a user clicks on the ad.

Google, like other Internet companies, has struggled for years to deal with what it calls “rogue online pharmacies.” In 2003, for instance, Google said it banned ads from U.S. companies that offer drugs like Vicodin and Viagra without a prescription.   Google acted after rivals, including Yahoo and Microsoft, made similar moves as the FDA began publicly pressuring sites to accept only drug ads from licensed Internet pharmacies.

But Google said in 2004 it would continue carrying ads for Canadian pharmacies that send medicines to U.S. customers. The decision riled some U.S. druggists and drew criticism from regulators.  After the FDA began its latest investigation, Google made changes last year to its policies for drug ads, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Google said in February 2010 it would begin allowing ads only 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.   In September Google filed a federal lawsuit in San Jose, Calif., seeking to block individuals running illegitimate pharmacies from advertising on its search engine and to recover damages.

“Rogue pharmacies are bad for our users, for legitimate online pharmacies and for the entire e-commerce industry—so we are going to keep investing time and money to stop these kinds of harmful practices,” Google lawyer Michael Zwibelman wrote on the company blog at the time.

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and a current high-ranking executive and board member, sidestepped questions about the investigation at a conference Wednesday and alluded to the fact that Larry Page is now running the company.

“Luckily, since we changed roles a few months ago, I don’t have to deal with filings, and the DOJ, the SEC or other acronyms,” Mr. Brin said, using the initials for the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.

The current investigation is Google’s latest brush with law enforcement and regulatory agencies in both the U.S. and abroad. The company is facing multiple investigations into possible antitrust and privacy violations in several nations. Google maintains that its breakneck growth will inevitably attract greater regulatory scrutiny, and that it’s done nothing wrong in connection with other probes.    There are other signs the government is serious about cracking down on illegal online pharmacies. On Thursday, entering the words “no prescription required” into Google’s search engine produced an ad that led to a Justice Department alert reading: “Prescription Drugs. Buying online could mean doing time.”

Source:  Wall Street Journal     MAY 13, 2011




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