In 2011, Google paid $500 million to settle charges from the U.S. Justice Department that the internet giant was allowing advertisements for fraudulent Canadian pharmacies selling drugs in the United States. Now Google is again accused of allowing ads for illegal online pharmacies selling counterfeit drugs. YouTube, a Google-owned site, has also been accused of allowing content that enables users to find powerful prescription medications.
Google has assured the National Association of Attorneys General, who levied the complaint, that enabling prescription drug abuse is an issue it takes seriously. For its part, YouTube has explained it relies on users and others to flag videos in violation of its community policies.
After Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood expressed his intent to send a “litigation hold” letter to Google, alerting the company of possible legal action, the number of search results and ads for illegal pharmacies has fallen significantly. While these results are encouraging, they are far from comprehensive reform that is needed.
Illicit pharmacies still permeate the internet and Google is far from the only co-conspirator. Website hosts and credit card companies also enable rogue pharmacies. It is clear that companies can not be reactive, waiting until substantial investigation reveals wrongdoing. Prescription drug abuse is more than a PR problem, it is as an Internet safety issue.
Yet consumer education is also essential to limiting the influence of illegal online pharmacies. According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), a review of more than 8,000 sites that sell prescription drugs found that 96 percent appeared to be operating in conflict with pharmacy laws and practice standards, putting patients at risk.
Not only is it possible that these products contain hazardous substances, like lead paint or animal poison, but they frequently do not include the FDA-approved amount of the active pharmaceutical ingredient. For patients who are taking drugs to treat a heart condition, infection, or allergy, this can be life-threatening.