The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly Update March 15, 2010
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PSM Delivers Social Media Recommendations to the FDA

If you're familiar with the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), you're familiar with our goal: to mitigate the threat of counterfeit and unsafe medicines to patients.


The internet and social media have been both a hindrance to our efforts-giving legs to unlicensed online pharmacies, search engine advertising and spam-and a help-providing a tool for outreach and advocacy efforts, all while providing choice and access for patients.

So when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its call for comments for a public hearing on the promotion of FDA-regulated medical products using the internet and social media, we had a lot to say. In addition to enunciating our desire to see a crackdown on search engine advertising of pharmaceuticals, we outlined three key challenges in regard to social media and pharmaceutical products:

  1. Lack of advertiser oversight and gate-keeping. For example, Facebook vaguely instructs its advertisers against posting ads for "uncertified pharmaceutical products."
  2. Lack of cooperation from trusted medical sites. PSM has encountered problems messaging to well-known medical sites, demonstrating that legitimate organizations can be stymied from communicating FDA alerts and recalls with affected groups.
  3. Policing advertiser content versus user-generated content. While advertiser content can be easily monitored, policing user-generated content about pharmaceuticals can be a gray area for administrators.

We also submitted a handful of solutions to the FDA that, in conjunction with other regulatory bodies, can shutter advertisers and peddlers of counterfeit drugs on the Web. Among our proposed solutions:

  1. Regulation of internet drug sellers, including online pharmacies. Simply, internet pharmacies should face the same standards as their offline counterparts.
  2. Search engine-specific regulations for advertising programs that discourage them from taking advertising dollars from unlicensed and unapproved sources, as well as incentives for search engines to shut down unauthorized sellers. This could include banning pharmaceutical-related keywords and a greater enforcement of advertisers bidding on trademarked pharmaceutical terms, among other solutions.
  3. Enabling verified social media accounts for authorized sellers and pharmaceutical companies. FDA could work with Twitter and other social networking platforms to verify pharmaceutical accounts, enabling consumers to get information from authentic sources.
  4. Software programs that block drug SPAM from personal computers. Programs that block pharmaceutical spam could be easily installed on personal computers and B-to-B partnerships could be created to encourage computer makers to include complimentary software with new purchases.
  5. FDA monitoring of social media and SMS alerts. Monitoring ongoing conversations online will help FDA pinpoint users who are peddling illicit products online. Furthermore, text-based warnings for cell phones and other handheld devices could communicate important alerts to affected patient groups, medical providers and medical centers.

To view our complete set of recommendations, read our official remarks to the FDA. We encourage you to keep up with this issue by following PSM on Twitter, and reading tweets tagged #fdasm.

Top News

UK: Customers Unwittingly Forwarded to Sites Selling Counterfeit Drugs


United Kingdom academic institutions have unwittingly become the victims of criminals selling counterfeit drugs online. A security firm has discovered many organizations using the domain are unknowingly forwarding customers to websites offering the fake pills. The scam exploits software flaws to piggyback on the computing resources of colleges and universities. The speed with which sites were being put up and taken down made it hard to get an exact figure for how many sites had been hit. However, he estimated that thousands of sites had been exploited by the drug spammers. ("Fake Drug Scam Hijacks UK College Websites," BBC, March 5, 2010; Story here)

World News

Canada: Canadians Reminded to be Wary of Online Medicines


"If it seems too good to be true, it usually is," said Michel Caron, a pharmacist at Ordre des Pharmaciens du Quebec. "The risks of buying medications online are enormous."

Many websites claim to be selling brand name prescription drugs at discounted prices.

The online purchase of any drug poses the potential for serious health risks. Many of the websites selling medications claim to be Canadian when, in fact, they are operating outside of the country. The online purchase of any drug poses the potential for serious health risks, especially when drugs are shipped to Canadian consumers from sources outside of the country, warns Health Canada. ("Online Medicine Comes With Risks," Montreal Gazette, March 4, 2010; Story here)



East Africa: New Laws Will Fight Counterfeit Trade


Companies targeting the East African market are set to benefit from the introduction of new anti-counterfeit rules which the regional trading bloc is preparing. Drafters of the regional anti-counterfeit legislation say they are at an advanced stage and the laws could be introduced in the East African Assembly as early as July. A committee of trade experts from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi met in Arusha, Tanzania, yesterday to discuss the draft anti-counterfeits laws applicable in each of the EAC member states. ("EA edges closer to having common laws on fake goods," Business Daily Africa, March 10, 2010; Story here)



Vietnam: Counterfeit Drugs Remain Common in Ho Chi Minh City


Local police last month discovered a large quantity of counterfeit drugs and production equipment including stamping machines and a device to make drug capsules. Also last month, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Market Managers discovered 2,000 containers of expired drugs in a warehouse belonging to Dong Phuong (Oriental) Pharmaceutical Ltd. Company. The company was found illegally applying new expiry dates to the drugs. According to the HCMC Market Management Board, over 10 major cases were reported in 2009 involving local pharmacies selling fake or expired drugs. ("Vietnam: Illegal Pharmaceutical Trade Continues to Run Rampant in Ho Chi Minh City," Saigon Daily, March 9, 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