The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly Update January 11, 2010
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Checking the Facts on 

Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) Board Member Dr. Bryan Liang was recently criticized in the American Journal of Law & Medicine for the "many inaccuracies and notable omissions," in his article "Searching for Safety: Addressing Search Engine, Website and Provider Accountability for Illicit Online Drug Sales," which he co-authored with Tim Mackey.

The critique came from Dr. Tod Cooperman and Gabriel Levitt, the president and vice president of, a verification service of online drug sellers that Liang and Mackey identified for its limited enforcement of and "stringent requirements" for online pharmacies.

Cooperman and Levitt claimed that "the online pharmacies that are verified by are rigorously monitored for compliance with strict standards," and that "leading search engines use these verifications to qualify pharmacy advertisers and help protect consumers."

In a published response, Dr. Liang and Mr. Mackey refuted Cooperman and Leavitt's assertions regarding the article's "inaccuracies and omissions," as well as their claims regarding verification and search engine monitoring, noting that:

  • has provided verification for online drug sellers engaged in actions directly in violation of its own purported requirements.
  • sites are linked to additional, related unlawful activities, including selling narcotics without a prescription.
  • One online drug seller,, was investigated by CNN, which found the site was simply selling controlled substances without a prescription, and was shipping drugs to all 50 states despite having only a Texas pharmacy license in violation of virtually all state drug dispensing laws.
  • Recent investigations of Yahoo and Microsoft's online drug advertising found that 80-90 percent of reviewed ads from drug sellers did not require a prescription or were acting unlawfully, verifying Liang and Mackey's observations, and contradicting Cooperman and Levitt's claim about PharmacyChecker's "rigorous monitoring" of search engine online drug sellers.

The PSM stands by Dr. Liang and Mr. Mackey as well as the accuracy and legitimacy of their paper. Furthermore, our colleagues should be commended for encouraging collaboration on these critical issues rather than combativeness.

Read the full letters [PDF] in Vol. 35 No. 4 of the American Journal of Law & Medicine.

Top News


FDA Warns that Rogue Online Pharmacies are Extorting Customers


Despite the risks involved, many people have turned to online pharmacies for cheaper drugs which are often substandard or counterfeit. Now some criminals are posing as FDA agents and threatening those who ordered fake medicine with legal action unless fines are paid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory people who have purchased medicines online or over the phone are often called by a person claiming to be an FDA agent. "Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," said Michael Chappell, the FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "The public should note that no FDA official will ever contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment." FDA agents and other law enforcement officials are not authorized to impose or collect criminal fines. ("FDA Issues Warning Over Online Pharmacy Extortion Scam," The Tech Herald, January 4, 2010; Story here)

World News


United States: Counterfeit Drugs get More Elusive


According to researchers, drug counterfeiters are using new tactics to sell more counterfeit drugs. They are using holograms and other security features to make their packaging look authentic and their products seem genuine. Counterfeit drugs may also contain active ingredients which fool patients into thinking that the drugs are effective. Unfortunately they may also contain harmful, even toxic ingredients which have proven deadly to some patients. Drug manufacturers are responding with new security approaches but these may also be mimicked in the future. ("Fake Drugs Getting More Sophisticated," United Press International, January 7, 2010; Story here)



UK: MHRA Seeks to Punish Drugs Counterfeiters


The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is looking into implementing prison sentences to combat fake online pharmacies and others selling counterfeit drugs. Convicted individuals could face a penalty of 10-12 years in prison if found guilty. According to an MHRA spokesperson, "A lot of counterfeit drugs come from the internet and we will take action against those sites." The agency believes 50-90% of medicines bought without a prescription, or via unregulated websites, are counterfeit. ("MHRA Seeks Prison for Fake Drug Peddlers," E-Health Insider, January 7, 2010; Story here)



United States: Drug Reimportation Carries With it a Variety of Risks


Despite the lure of cheaper prices, drug reimportation carries with it substantial risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reasserted last month imported and reimported drugs can't be guaranteed to be safe. According to studies, a significant percentage of drugs thought to be American-made and reimported are actually counterfeit. For example, in one sting in 2003, FDA and Customs officials found that 88% of the imported drug packages they inspected did not meet federal safety standards. Furthermore, reimporting American-made could have a damaging effect on industry and development. ("Why Drug 'Reimportation' Won't Die," The Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2010; Story here)

About the Partnership for Safe Medicines
The Partnership for Safe Medicines is a group of organizations and individuals that have policies, procedures, or programs to protect consumers from counterfeit or contraband medicines. For more information, please visit