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Google Online Pharmacy Settlement With DOJ Hurts American Patients, According to AEI Scholar

Last week, Roger Bate, an economist and expert in counterfeit drugs with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article called “Google’s Ad Freedom Wrongly Curtailed.” Bate’s piece shows how banning safe foreign online pharmacies from advertising on Google and elsewhere is not only unethical but will lead to sub-optimal health outcomes. As we wrote at the end of August, the non-prosecution agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google, in which the search engine was fined $500 million for allowing rouge Canadian sites to advertise controlled substances, is good because it forces Google to now block dangerous rogue online pharmacies from advertising. At the same time, however, it’s bad because it appears to prevent Google from allowing safe and affordable Canadian-based online pharmacies form advertising as well.

The DOJ/Google settlement appears to reflect the false rhetoric espoused by the U.S. government and pharmaceutical industry that only U.S. online pharmacies can be safe. Bate knows this is not true based on his own empirical studies, which found that properly credentialed non-U.S. online pharmacies sell genuine medication at a lower cost and require a prescription.  By blocking safe Canadian pharmacies from advertising to Americans on Google, it is more difficult for needy Americans to find them. Bate writes:

Google’s current policy removes the potentially lethal sellers, but by disallowing credentialed foreign sites from advertising it will harm public health. The tens of millions of uninsured Americans who cannot afford their drugs will go online to circumvent this obstruction. If they are unaware of’s credentialing, they will play Russian roulette and may end up buying a lethal product.

With media outlets and politicians inundated with a voracious pharmaceutical industry public relations assault that seeks to paint all non-U.S. online pharmacies as rogue, the victim here is the American seeking affordable medication online because he or she can’t afford it here at home. Bate wrote: “What is surprising is that independent groups, like Consumer Reports and AARP, have bought into this industry rhetoric or have failed to properly explain to their members that foreign doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous.” (more…)

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The Google Online Pharmacy Settlement: Why It’s Both Wrong and Right

UPDATED: August 24, 2011, 6:30pm

The United States Department of Justice just announced that Google will be paying a $500 million penalty to the U.S. government for allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise to Americans. We are familiar with this case, having been asked to testify in it – and we are mentioned several times in the settlement.

Although we tried to help Google vet pharmacy advertisers from 2006 to 2009, it is clear that Google was not limiting pharmacy advertisers to just those verified in our Pharmacy Verification Program – as noted on pages 4 and 5 of the settlement. That was bad because it allowed advertising by pharmacies that did not require valid U.S. prescriptions and/or sold controlled substances into the U.S.  – activities which we do not permit in our program. As noted on page 6 of the settlement, the $500 million amount is based on revenues generated from the advertising and sales of “controlled” substances, not all medicines.

On the other hand, we believe that efforts to help Americans find more affordable and safe sources of medication are necessary and should be praised. And Google also did that: Although it can’t anymore – at least not through advertisements  – and we think that’s wrong.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice is publicizing the settlement in a misleading manner that paints all non-U.S. online pharmacies as “patently unsafe,” and “contributing to America’s pill problem”.  Peer-reviewed research shows that buying prescription medications from licensed pharmacies in other countries, and specifically those verified in the Verification Program, is safe. Genuine medicines (and no controlled substances) are obtained, typically at savings of 80% or more on brand name medications – and prescriptions are required.  Also, while the DOJ’s announcement emphasizes the illegality of personal drug importation, it fails to mention that individuals, as a matter of FDA’s policies, are not prosecuted for buying non-controlled drugs from outside the U.S. for their own use.

An FDA representative says in today’s announcement that the settlement “demonstrates the commitment of the Food and Drug Administration to protect the US consumer and hold all contributing parties accountable for conduct that results in vast profits at the expense of public health.” While this is in part true, it ignores the fact that much greater profits are being made by pharmaceutical companies at the expense of public health by keeping Americans captive to inflated drug prices. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, 25 million Americans did not take their prescribed medication due to cost in 2009, almost double the number in 1997. Personal drug importation from properly verified and reputable Canadian online pharmacies clearly benefits public health by making drugs more affordable for Americans.

For a take on this situation from the perspective of a knowledgeable physician who purchases his own medicine from abroad, see the recent article by Stephen Barrett, M.D., founder of and

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