The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly Update March 29, 2010
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Yahoo Fails to Address Counterfeit Drugs in Remarks to FDA

At the end of February, the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) answered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) call for comments on their docket concerning the Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools.

We submitted our recommendations on the tail of Google's change to its online advertising policies, requiring online pharmacies in the U.S. to be accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's Verifiable Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program. The changes cut out third-party verifiers like PharmacyChecker, leaving VIPPS as the lone online pharmacy accreditation program for drug advertisers in the U.S.

We had hoped that following Google's announcement, as well as the FDA spotlight on how drug sellers interact with users on the Internet, other search engines would follow Google's lead.

However, we were disappointed to find that Yahoo failed to address the threat of unscrupulous advertisers using Yahoo's service to peddle counterfeit and illicit medical products.

This is particularly disconcerting as a recent investigation 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.

Instead, Yahoo chiefly centered its remarks around product safety information listed in Web-based advertisements and limitations on policing and verifying the legitimacy of user-generated content on social networking sites.

But the conversation about the promotion of pharmaceuticals online is incomplete unless you address the need for regulation of Internet drug sellers-including online pharmacies-and advertisements from illicit advertisers and the search engine companies profiting from them.

As Yahoo wrote, "each month, 91 million Americans use the Internet to access health information at over 1,700 dedicated health sites," and consumers need to be "provided with health-related information in a manner that is truthful and balanced."

We couldn't agree more. However, that information-including advertisements for prescription drugs and medical products-should be safe and trustworthy, as well.

Top News

US: Baltimore Used as Waypoint in Counterfeit Trade


An international counterfeiting ring smuggled tens of millions of dollars worth of fake Coach handbags, Nike sneakers, Gucci shoes and Cartier watches into the United States though the Port of Baltimore, federal authorities charged Friday in announcing the indictment of the ring's members. Authorities said the ring planned to expand to counterfeit drugs next. The Maryland business, which purported to import and export products without paying taxes and customs duties, was actually part of the government's undercover operation. Three New Yorkers were indicted, along with several Chinese. ("International Smuggling Ring used Baltimore as Entry to U.S., Authorities Say," Washington Post, March 19, 2010; Story here)

World News

US: Doctors Asked to Stop Use of the Rotarix Vaccine Due to Contamination


Officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told doctors to temporarily stop using Rotarix, a vaccine commonly used to protect children from the stomach bug rotavirus, because it is contaminated with traces of another virus. The contaminant, called PCV-1, is a DNA virus that infects pigs and other species but has not been known to cause illness in humans. The FDA, however, is not taking chances and after consulting with scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other departments decided to pause use of the drug to try and determine what this virus was doing in the vaccine and how it got there. ("FDA Asks Doctors to Temporarily Halt Use of Rotarix Vaccine," The Washington post, March 23, 2010; Story here)



India: Officials Strengthen Action against Counterfeit Drug Makers


In an effort to eliminate illegal drug trade across Tamil Nadu, India, Chief Minister Karunanidhi instructed senior health and police officials to take severe action against those involved in the manufacture and distribution of expired and counterfeit drugs. The push comes following the demise of a three-year-old girl in the city after she comsumed an expired drug. Manufacturing and trading in substandard and counterfeit drugs continue to pose a major threat to public health, and Karunanidhi expressed the urgent need to raise public awareness on the issue. ("Karunanidhi Urges Tougher Action against Spurious Drug Makers," The Med Guru, March 24, 2010; Story here)



Czech Republic: Customs Officials Intercept Counterfeit Lifestyle Drugs


According to Czech customs, officials have seized over 5000 tablets of counterfeit drugs for treating lifestyle performance issues. The intercepted parcel originated in India and is the largest consignment of this kind in several years, General Customs Directorate spokesman Jiri Bartak announced this week. The counterfeits were discovered at a post office in Prague and were being sent to a Czech recipient. Customs officers seized some 7500 pieces of counterfeit medicines all last year and some 914 since January of this year. ("Czech Customs Officers Seize Counterfeit [Lifestyle Drugs] from India," Prague Daily Monitor, March 25, 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