The US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) has teamed up with the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), a group bringing together pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies and regulators that is focused on combatting unauthorised and illegal internet drug sales.
USP spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksentold in-Pharmatechnologist.com the idea is to “raise public awareness about the potential threat of spurious online drug sales. Education and outreach are essential because individual members of the public play a direct role in protecting themselves.”
He explained that, rather than testing products sold illegally online, the USP’s role will be “Helping consumers understand that all online drug sellers are not created equally, highlighting the risks of dealing with rogue websites and providing information and tools to help identify legitimate online pharmacies are all ways that we can impact this issue.”
“As an organization that sets and promotes quality standards for medicines, it is part of USP’s public health mission to support efforts intended to keep consumers and patients from being harmed by counterfeit and substandard products.”
The campaign is one of a number of efforts to raise awareness of the risks of buying drugs online. For example, the UK MHRA, the US FDA, Interpol, the United Nations and the European Commission are all working to combat illegal online pharmacies.
Pfizer, whose drug Viagra is a commonly advertised by illegal web pharmacies, recently started selling the pill online itself. Similarly, Eli Lilly has been urging the US Government to take action against illegal websites for several years.
Yet despite these efforts the problem of illegal pharmacies persists.
In 2013, the US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) surveyed 10,421 online pharmacies and found that only 257 (2.47%) were legitimate, based on their registration details and domain names. The vast majority were deemed to be suspect.
We asked Hagen-Frederiksenwhether, given the scale of the problem, imposing national bans on online pharmacies would be a more effective option than campaigns or crackdowns.
In response, he told us that: “The international and fluid nature of the Internet requires a broad-based approach.
“Because consumers play a direct role in this process, the focus for ASOP, USP and other concerned parties is to increase public awareness about criminal or rogue Internet sites that pose as legitimate pharmacies.”