Originally published in the August 2010 NABP Newsletter
The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) is working to bring about policy changes requiring Internet search engines, domain name registrars, and other “gatekeepers” to stop enabling rogue Internet drug outlets. Its objective: to ensure that patients have access – whether online or offline – to safe, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medicine through licensed United States pharmacies.
With the support of NABP and other stakeholders, ASOP is educating government policymakers about the role Internet commerce stakeholders (eg, Internet service providers, search engines, domain name registrars), financial transaction entities, and other entities could play in protecting patient safety by promoting legitimate online pharmacies. The group calls these enablers gatekeepers, or choke points, and identifies search engines and domain name registrars as primary among them. ASOP aspires to see choke-point stakeholders and government actors cooperate to ensure that search results, domain names, promotional ads, and payment mechanisms are only available to legitimate online pharmacies that sell FDA-approved medicines to US patients in compliance with federal and state law.
While three major search engines recently amended their policies to restrict advertising to those Internet pharmacies that are VIPPS® (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice SitesCM) accredited, others continue to allow illegal drug sellers to advertise “sponsored links.” And all still enable consumers to access illegal drug sellers through “natural” key-word search results. Contributing to the problem, many domain name registrars indiscriminately sell domain names (ie, Web site addresses) to illegal drug sellers who use the domain name to deceptively attract consumers to the sellers’ unlawfully operating sites.
Engaging with key government agencies, ASOP seeks to choke off these routes to illegal drug sales to protect US patients from substandard, unapproved, and counterfeit drugs. Already this year, ASOP has met with Drug Enforcement Administration, US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, and FDA to discuss the problem of illegal online drug sellers, possible legislative solutions, and other strategies to protect consumers from these rogue entities and ensure the availability of legitimate, FDA-approved medications online.
ASOP’s founding member organizations include American Pharmacists Association, Eli Lilly and Company, LegitScript, and National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Partnership for a Drug Free America recently became a member. NABP – along with National Health Council, and Partnership for Safe Medicines – is an observer; it supports the ASOP mission, participates in meetings, and offers information, but is not a voting member in the decision-making process.
More information is available on the ASOP Web site.