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Internet Society and Online Access to Affordable Medication: The Problem with dot Pharmacy

We’ve talked a lot about the efforts of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), funded by big pharmaceutical companies, to curtail online access to safe and affordable medication by conflating rogue online pharmacies with safe international online pharmacies: most distressingly through its application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. I had the opportunity to present our position about the importance of maximizing online access to safe and affordable prescription drugs by participating on a panel organized by the Internet Society New York Chapter. The focus of the panel overall was on public interest commitments as they pertain to new generic top level domains (gTLD) (i.e., new domain endings such as .book, .amazon, .religion, .nyc, and .pharmacy). Such gTLD’s area acquired through the opening up of this space by ICANN.

The mission of the Internet Society is directly applicable to the issue of online access to affordable medicine:  “By connecting the world, working with others, and advocating for equal access to the Internet, the Internet Society strives to make the world a better place.”

The NY Chapter recently held a meeting in my home borough of Brooklyn! Members of the New York Chapter are currently concerned with potential abuses of the .nyc domain space. For example, the organizer of the panel and board member, Thomas Lowenhaput, is concerned that a corporation like Domino’s or Pizza Hut will own the domain, not only obtaining a commercial advantage but denigrating New York pizza’s culinary cultural soul. The heart and soul of New York pizza has nothing to do with national retail pizza chains so there should be safeguards preventing commercial abuses of those premium domain names. You get the idea!

On the panel, I talked about NABP’s plan to operate the domain space called .PHARMACY because we believe it furthers pharmaceutical corporate interests at the expense of consumers, although in this case the issue is health not pizza! I informed the meeting’s participants that the NABP’s application to ICANN to operate .PHARMACY was funded by pharmaceutical companies and that its domain registration policies will help serve their commercial interests. Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies prefer it when consumers pay much more at U.S. pharmacies for the same medications sold in Canadian and other foreign pharmacies at a much lower cost.

NABP’s policies will prohibit a .PHARMACY registration to any non-U.S. pharmacy that sells medication to consumers in the U.S. The basis for its policy mirrors and relies on the discriminatory U.S. and state regulations prohibiting safe personal drug importation. In so doing, NABP is using the levers of Internet governance to support domestic policies that impede consumers from obtaining medications they need. Essentially, in the parlance of the Internet Society, I told the group that NABP’s vision of .PHARMACY undermines the Internet’s promise as a tool to “make the world a better place.”

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ICANN and Online Pharmacies: NABP’s Scheme for .Pharmacy is not What’s Best for Global Consumers

A Letter to the ICANN Community

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported on the subject of rogue online pharmacies and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The gist of the article is that ICANN is not doing enough to stop dangerous pharmacy websites. There is reason to believe that ICANN could do more but it could also do too much to the detriment of consumers who cannot afford medication locally. There’s an appropriate middle ground for getting rid of rogue pharmacy sites, but not overreaching and ending online access to safe and affordable medication. Willfully ending such access threatens the public health and treads on global norms relating to human rights and access to medications.

Earlier this month I attended an ICANN conference for the first time, which was in Los Angeles. We’ve written on several occasions about the application by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to ICANN to operate a new generic top level domain (gTLD) called “.pharmacy”. To remind many of our readers, gTLDs are the endings of websites, such as .com, .org, .gov, .edu, .int, etc. The bottom line here is that we and many others believe that NABP, if its application is successful, will use its new ICANN-conferred legitimacy to stifle competition, mislead the public about online pharmacies, and in doing so curtail access by Americans and consumers worldwide to safe and affordable medication online.

I met many dedicated, interesting and well-informed people at the ICANN conference, including those serving within the ICANN community and others following it closely. To follow up with them I wrote the following letter.


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Opposition Grows to Pharma-Funded Application by NABP for .Pharmacy to ICANN

More public interest and consumer groups are hopping on the bandwagon to defend online access to safe and affordable medication. As we reported a few weeks back, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has applied to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to administer a generic top level domain called “.Pharmacy” (dot pharmacy). NABP proposes to block all online pharmacies that fill orders internationally to Americans from obtaining a website that ends in .Pharmacy, including ones that are safe and approved by  NABP’s critics, identified below, view its application as an effort to curtail consumer purchases of lower cost medicine from outside the United States. One of their main concerns is  that  NABP’s application is funded by Merck and Eli Lilly – big pharma: a situation prone to major conflicts of interest.

To read more about this issue see our press release.

This NABP/ICANN issue can be very confusing so I offer the following explanation.  ICANN is a non-profit organization that governs the world wide web system of domain names, such as .com, .org., and .edu. For a long time the available suffixes, called generic top-level domains (gTLDs)  that could be used for website names have been limited. Last year ICANN opened up a process by which companies and organizations could apply to act as registry – administrators – for new names, such as .career, .casino, .charity, etc.  In theory, this could open up new opportunities for innovation and development over the Internet. However, a pharma-funded initiative to make the rules and govern the Internet in an area as critical as the distribution of prescription medication will serve only to protect business interests to the detriment of consumers.

David Moon from Demand Progress, an Internet freedom group and lead organization in battling the Stop Online Piracy Act, sums it up perfectly: “From our direct experience with NABP and its allies in Internet policy disputes, there is ample cause to believe the applicant seeks to control .pharmacy to the detriment of free speech & access to safe and affordable medication for consumers.”

Here is a list of the groups and people who have voiced opposition and concern about NABP’s application for .Pharmacy:

Canadian International Pharmacy Association (Tim Smith, President)

Demand Progress (David Moon, Program Director)

Knowledge Ecology International – KEI (James Love, Director)

Mature Voices Minnesota (Robert E. Hines, Board Chair) (Tod Cooperman,  MD, President and Gabriel Levitt, Vice President)

Public Citizen (Peter Maybarduk, JD, Global Access to Medicines Program Director)

Ram Kamath, PharmD (, Director of Pharmacy Policy and International Verifications). (Lee Graczyk, Lead Organizer) (Daniel Hines)

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