Illegal online pharmacies are serious health hazard to the people at large. The United States (U.S.) has been taking illegal online pharmacies very seriously. At the same time U.S. is also lobbying hard to protect the interest of U.S. pharmaceutical companies in India. U.S. efforts in the pharmaceutical field have also increased as recently Novartis lost the patent battle in the Supreme Court of India regarding the Novartis AG’s Cancer treatment drug Glivec’s case.
However, these lobbying efforts may not work as Indian patent law is in conformity with WTO and international obligations. Further, India is a hub for production and supply of generic drugs world over. The pharmaceutical companies in U.S. have felt threatened due to this dominant position of India. On top of it, online pharmacies in India have increased the sale and distribution of Indian generic drugs world over.
Many online pharmacies of India may be on hit list of U.S. and technology companies and search engines like Google, Yahoo, etc. However, we cannot blame U.S. for taking legal and retaliatory actions against Indian online pharmacies as almost all of them are operating in an illegal and unregulated manner. Recently, U.S. shut down 1677 illegal online pharmacies websites but Indian government is still indifferent towards taking legal actions against illegal online pharmacies of India.
We have many techno legal requirements and laws for opening of online pharmacy store in India but online pharmacies are not complying with the same. Neither the website owners nor the foreign investors have made any e-commerce due diligence exercise regarding these online pharmacies. In particular, cyber law due diligence requirements (PDF) is openly violated by these online pharmacies. Although Indian drug authorities have declared that they would take action against illegal online pharmacies yet till now no online pharmacy of India has been punished.
Now Internet players, including Google, are working with the U.S. government to sort out and curb illegal online pharmacies impacting U.S. citizens. It is practically not possible to find out and prohibit every online pharmacies operating on the Internet so U.S. is focusing on limiting their use through consumer education, restricting their appearance in Internet searches, and enforcing harsher punishment.
Currently, 35,000 to 50,000 active Internet pharmacies are believed to be operating, and 97 percent of those surveyed do not meet U.S. standards, according to a 2013 report (PDF) from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. This could mean they are not approved by the FDA, or that their pharmacists are not licensed by the state licensing board.
The Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act passed in 2012 and the Drug Quality and Security Act of 2013 include guidance regarding safety of the legitimate drug supply chain. Both laws are in the process of being implemented, and they involve tighter track and trace security as drugs travel between manufacturer and patient. Yet regulating Internet pharmacies can be more challenging because they sell directly to consumers, and it can be nearly impossible for patients to know whether a website, and the drug it is selling, is legitimate.
Google, in particular, does not have a clean record in dealing with international online pharmacies. The company previously allowed Canadian sellers to advertise through its AdWords program, targeting American consumers and illegally importing drugs into the U.S. A settlement was reached in 2011, in which Google forfeited $500 million and agreed to a set of measures to ensure reporting of counterfeit drug sales to the federal government.
Google is now a member of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), a nonprofit formed in 2011 with the mission of promoting secure online pharmacies through “education, enforcement, and information sharing.” This involves both limiting the visibility and accessibility of rogue sellers, and educating consumers about identifying safe online pharmacies.
Other CSIP members include Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Visa, American Express, UPS, and more. The group aims to partner with government officials, health providers, law enforcement, and other groups to educate patients about finding safe medicine online; aid law enforcement efforts; and create a public list of safe websites for consumers. Internet companies are working to report and remove illegal pharmacies from Internet search results, while payment networks aim to prevent payment transactions for illegal drugs.
We at Perry4Law welcome this move of these telecom companies and payment networks as the health hazard created through illegal online pharmacies is of gravest nature. These illegal pharmacies are also creating legal and commercial troubles for these companies.
The cooperation is crucial because the issue of illegal online pharmacies is very complex and daunting. Even with the collaboration of the government, Internet providers, pharmaceutical companies, and other stakeholders, controlling the growing problem of counterfeit drug sales remains a constant challenge due to conflict of laws in cyberspace. Nevertheless a continuous and arduous effort in this field is need of the hour.