TechDirt Founder Mike Masnick Hits the Nail on the Online Pharmacy Head

In writing about the web domain company EasyDNS’ online pharmacy policy, Mike Masnick, founder of award-winning technology and business innovation blog Techdirt, makes the following observation:

“Fake and dangerous drugs from rogue pharmacies are a real (if relatively small) problem. Legitimate foreign pharmacies selling into the US at cheaper prices are a made up problem by US drug companies. But those US drug companies like to take the “small” problem, and blame it on any non-US pharmacy in an attempt to block out the competition.”

Thank you Mike for expressing that so clearly! The essence of TechDirt is to “analyze and offer insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies’ ability to innovate and grow.” Innovation via the Internet has allowed consumers who can’t afford their medicine domestically to access it through foreign pharmacies. The pharmaceutical industry and its well-funded agents are getting away with murder by pressuring online “gatekeepers” such as domain registrars, search engines, and credit card companies to disallow service to pharmacies that American consumers have come to rely on.

To some in the public health community and in government, Mike’s expression of rogue online pharmacies as a “relatively small” problem” may come across as flippant and even naïve – but it cuts much deeper than that. The question is relative to what? If he means relative to the public health crisis of high drug prices in America then Mike is entirely correct: rogue online pharmacies are a small problem compared to high drug prices in America. Far more Americans are getting sick and/or dying because they can’t afford medication at home than they are from dangerous online pharmacy purchases.

That does not excuse the actions of rogue pharmacy websites that endanger the health of consumers. That’s precisely why EasyDNS’ decision to only provide service to online pharmacies if they are approved by LegitScript or PharmacyChecker is visionary. It does not let dangerous pharmacy websites exist, but it refuses to succumb to a protectionist, anti-consumer, big pharma initiative to snuff out innovative business models – safe international online pharmacy – that hinder their profit-making machine and grossly disadvantage consumers.

Rock on TechDirt!

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EasyDI’m writing this blog post to say thank you to a domain registrar called EasyDNS and its CEO, Mark Jeftovic, and to talk about what’s up with registrars and online pharmacies, as it could affect your online access to safe and affordable medication. EasyDNS’s new online pharmacy policy denies service to rogue online pharmacies but not safe online pharmacies.  It will accomplish this policy by providing service to online pharmacies only if they are approved by LegitScript or PharmacyChecker.

In short, domain registrars are companies that help people obtain website names; names such as www.rxrights.org, www.doctorswithoutborders.org, www.WebMD.com, www.nytimes.com, etc.  The most popular of these registrars in America is Go Daddy. If all registrars deny service to a person or a company, such as a rogue online pharmacy, then it cannot reach the public. If all registrars deny service to safe online pharmacies with very low drug prices then the public will not have access to them.

Our friends at RxRights gave a strong shout out to EasyDNS this week as well.

You might be thinking that this is no big deal. Who wouldn’t want to stop rogue pharmacy sites but allow safe, low-cost online pharmacies to operate? Well, earlier this year the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) sent letters out to 200 registrars telling them to take down websites that NABP doesn’t recommend. No matter how safe it might be, the NABP does not recommend any international online pharmacy that sells to Americans, instead unfairly calling them rogue sites.

Popular Internet freedom blog Techdirt published an article about NABP called, “Pharmacy Group Lies To Registrars: If We Complain About A Site, It Must Be Taken Down No Questions Asked.”  It wrote: “The NABP is basically an organization designed to artificially inflate the price of drugs in the US, cynically using highly questionable claims to pretend that they’re focused on ‘public safety.’”

For the record, there is not a single reported death by a person who ordered from an international online pharmacy, ones that NABP calls “rogue,” that requires a valid prescription and fills orders through licensed pharmacies. The industry has been around for about fifteen years now. (more…)

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Gabriel Levitt Testifying Before the SubcommitteeOur vice president, Gabriel Levitt (Gabe), presented testimony at a congressional hearing yesterday, urging congress to protect Americans’ access to safe and affordable medication online. The hearing was held by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet and titled “The Role of Voluntary Agreements in the U.S. Intellectual Property System.” What exactly does this hearing have to do with Americans buying medication from Canada and other countries?

Basically, the government is encouraging large American companies to band together through “voluntary agreements” to stop online piracy and intellectual property violations online and this hearing discussed the effectiveness of these agreements. The heads of big business trade associations attended primarily to defend current practices and encourage even stricter rules. Although the hearing’s focus was about the online availability of copyright material like music and movies, some committee members were pleased to hear about the online pharmacy side of things. Gabe discussed the voluntary agreements adopted by leading Internet and credit card companies to combat rogue online pharmacies through their association in the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies , also known as CSIP. CSIP’s efforts, which rely on data powered by LegitScript, have successfully curbed access to some dangerous web pharmacies, but they also wrongly categorize all non-US online pharmacies that sell to Americans as “unapproved.” This may scare Americans away from safe and affordable pharmacies, including sites approved by PharmacyChecker.com. Gabe said:

We believe that voluntary agreements can be a useful tool in protecting Americans from counterfeit products, but they can also be misused in anti-competitive ways which scare and thwart Americans from accessing affordable medication. This leads to poor medication compliance with negative health consequences and also goes against the Administration’s desire that voluntary agreements not be used to impede competition.

We’d like to thank Subcommittee Ranking Member Congressman Melvin Watt who initiated the invitation to Mr. Levitt. While Congressman Watt favors voluntary agreements to combat online intellectual property violations, he genuinely sought insight into how American consumers can be negatively affected by such agreements. You can read the full PharmacyChecker.com congressional testimony and watch the hearing. (Gabe’s testimony begins at 58:00)

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Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (safemedsonline.org) – Help or Harm for Consumers?

A new organization, the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) – safemedsonline.org – made its debut yesterday. Unfortunately, the group seems more focused on keeping its big corporate members in the good graces of the pharmaceutical industry and government than on helping American consumers. In fact, its actions may endanger public health.

This should come as no surprise, as the plan to create the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies was hatched by the White House Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator in 2010 which, as previously reported here, was handed the plan by the pharmaceutical industry. The plan fit very well with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) legislation which was eventually shelved.

The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies has two main activities. The first is to educate, or more accurately, “scare,” the public away from using “illegal” pharmacies, which appear to include licensed and safe pharmacies outside the U.S. which sell genuine but lower priced medicine to Americans. The second is to work with the U.S. government to “shut down” chosen online pharmacies by blocking their ability to appear in online searches and to accept payments.

CSIP has handed over the job of deciding which online pharmacies are okay to LegitScript, which has its own suspect past and intentions. All non-US online pharmacies are branded “not approved” by LegitScript on the basis that it’s technically illegal to personally import most medications – even though the government, in its wisdom, has permitted it. Moreover, it appears that LegitScript is essentially a private sector extension of the FDA as evidenced by its $2.6 million government contract.

As part of its launch, the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies produced a scare video showing a caring, young woman go online to research and order lower-priced medication online for an elderly relative. The relative then falls ill and the young woman worries that the medicine may have been fake or even “rat poison” and, through the miracle of video, the clock is rolled back, the medicine is never ordered, and all is somehow well without the medicine.

This far-fetched horror flick is far more likely to scare people away from affordable medicine than keep them safe. It’s an indisputable fact that for more than a decade millions of Americans, many of whom have trouble paying for prescription medication in the United States, have safely filled their prescriptions, at much lower prices, through online pharmacies in Canada and other countries. Independent research has also shown that medicine ordered from sites approved by PharmacyChecker.com or the VIPPS Program is genuine. If CSIP’s well-funded public relations team could have found a person who was actually injured by ordering medicine with a prescription from an online pharmacy, they would not have had to create a fictitious character and story.

It is well document that tens of tens of millions of Americans go without medication each year due to cost and suffer real illness as a result. Keeping them “safe” means helping Americans find affordable medicine – not cutting a lifeline to it.

There are plenty of rogue pharmacies out there which CSIP can help root out – ones that sell fake medicine and don’t require prescriptions. We hope CSIP decides to focus all of its attention on these real dangers. If not, the real horror story could turn out to be CSIP itself when its actions increase the number of people who go without needed medication or are left impoverished due to prices at pharmacies of which CSIP “approves.”

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As reported in DigitalJournal this past Wednesday, at a press conference in Keene, NH, Congressman Ron Paul (TX-14), Republican candidate for president, accused the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA of being in “bed together.” He derided their arrangement, characterized by a revolving door of people repeatedly switching jobs back and forth between the FDA and pharmaceutical industry, as collusion to reduce competition in the pharmaceutical marketplace, resulting in higher drug prices. When it comes to online pharmacies, personal drug importation and drug prices, Congressman Paul’s critique resonates all too loudly.

The pharmaceutical industry, through their main trade association Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has lobbied vigorously to keep safe personal drug importation illegal, and to scare Americans away through its media relations juggernaut and funding of the Partnership for Safe Medicine from buying safe and affordable medication online from Canada and other countries. PhRMA even commissioned the publication of a novel about a terrorist conspiracy – The Karasik Conspiracy in which terrorists attack Americans with bad drugs sold from Canada! This effort backfired and they pulled the plug on the publishing company, which then went ahead and published a different version of The Karasik Conspiracy novel in which a pharmaceutical giant poisons medications to protect its profits. (more…)

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Web of Trust (WOT) and Online Pharmacies: PharmacyChecker.com Provides Clarity

Over the past few years we’ve found that, despite many positive ratings from actual consumers, the most reputable and safe international online pharmacies are unfairly given low ratings on WOT. As an online community of people who are supposed to rate websites on their trustworthiness, this is clearly problematic. Last week we posted an article about online pharmacies as a forum discussion on WOT – MyWot.com – to share our analysis of why the best international online pharmacies are wrongly receiving poor reputations. It should be recognized that many dangerous online pharmacies, foreign and domestic, are appropriately rated poorly on WOT, but, as described below, that doesn’t excuse rating good websites as bad.

In summary, a handful of WOT’s “Platinum” raters (those that have provided more than 10,000 ratings) mostly look to the online pharmacy evaluations of LegitScript.com and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, both aligned with the interests of big pharmaceutical companies. By doing so, WOT users are serving the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical and U.S. pharmacy industries by giving a low rating to trustworthy and safe online pharmacies. This is wrong and hurts consumers.

Because WOT ratings are used to determine exposure on other sites, unwarranted low ratings of safe and affordable non-U.S. online pharmacies, which are actually trustworthy, can harm American consumers who can’t afford drug prices. Sadly, these low ratings may cause them to forgo needed medication by wrongly believing an affordable online pharmacy is dangerous and untrustworthy when in fact it is very safe and trustworthy.

Since we posted the article as a forum there has been mostly positive feedback (except about the length of the forum) and a frank discussion about online pharmacies, access to medication and Web of Trust.

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Call for an Investigation of John Horton, President of LegitScript, for Possible Government Ethics Violations

Today we asked the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and any other appropriate government agencies to investigate possible violations of government ethics laws by John Horton, president and founder of LegitScript.com, while he was Associate Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and after leaving his government post.

Our request was sent to Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns and Ranking Member Darrell Issa.

Mr. Horton appears to have misused and abused his government position for private gain by starting, while in office, an online pharmacy verification service, LegitScript.com, and given unfair market advantage to his business.  More importantly, his actions appear to have violated the will of Congress, misled the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and instigated and/or encouraged government actions by ONDCP and other government agencies adverse to the interests of Americans, specifically hindering access by Americans to safe and affordable medication.

As further described in our letter, we believe that, to serve his private interests and those of prospective pharmaceutical and pharmacy clients, Mr. Horton appears to have subverted the activities of ONDCP by ignoring the congressional request found in Section 1107 of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006 to develop strategies to stop the online advertising of controlled substances without a prescription. Instead, Mr. Horton developed strategic policies for blocking the online advertising of all prescription medication from licensed Canadian and other non-US pharmacies that do require a prescription. Such pharmacies have been a lifeline to affordable medication for millions of Americans.

Click here to read the full request and view supporting exhibits.

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Rogue Pharmacy Connections Found In LegitScript.com’s Network

The LegitScript network of “approved” online pharmacies includes connections to rogue pharmacies, although this is something that LegitScript prefers not to disclose. In 2008, Cardinal Health, which has a number of LegitScript-approved Internet Pharmacies within its retail network, paid a settlement of $34 million to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly shipping controlled substances to illegitimate online pharmacies. According to then DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart:

“Cardinal’s negligent conduct contributed to our nation’s serious pharmaceutical abuse problem. This substantial civil penalty underscores DEA’s determination to prevent pharmaceutical diversion and protect the public health and safety by continuing to hold companies responsible if they fail to fulfill their obligations under the Controlled Substance Act.”
(more…)

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LegitScript – Not So Legit?

A firm called Legit Script (LegitScript.com) claims to be protecting people by labeling legitimate Canadian and other non-U.S. pharmacies as “Unapproved” or “Rogue.”  This serves the big pharmaceutical interests but not the American consumer. More than that, its founder, John Horton, appears to have exploited his former government position to establish LegitScript.com for his own gain. (more…)

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