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As you’ll discover below, the Obama administration’s policies to combat the manufacture and sale of counterfeit medications have a lot to do with furthering the agenda of the pharmaceutical industry in discouraging and curtailing online access by Americans to safe and affordable medication. Remember “The Deal” between the Obama administration and Big Pharma, in the form of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), in which the Obama administration agreed to abandon supporting drug importation legal reform to lower drug prices for Americans if PhRMA would support Obamacare? I’ve always wondered how far that deal went.

This week, in our continuing quest to get the truth out and for our elected leaders in Congress to take bold action to protect online access to safe and affordable medication, we’re publishing the next section of our report called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health

The Obama Administration’s Role in Combatting Rogue Online Pharmacies and Their Conflation with Safe International Online Pharmacies

The GAO report briefly mentioned the efforts of the White House Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), through which the Obama administration has shaped policies and encouraged actions affecting online access to medication. In 2010, as part of its mission to combat intellectual property infringement on the Internet, IPEC requested that the private sector take “voluntary” actions against online pharmacies.[1] The result was the formation of CSIP.

While CSIP does help combat rogue Internet pharmacies, it also acts to discourage Americans from accessing safe, affordable pharmacies outside the United States. CSIP provides a database on its website for consumers to find “legitimate” online pharmacies, which is powered by LegitScript. When American consumers use this tool to look up an online pharmacy operating outside the U.S., they find that all safe international online pharmacies are “unapproved.” The CSIP website is mostly a clearing house of information for pharmaceutical industry-funded or allied groups such as the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, LegitScript, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), and the Partnership for Safe Medicines.

Congress is examining voluntary agreements in the private sector, ones recommended by the Obama administration, as a solution to copyright and other intellectual property right violations that occur on the Internet. Some voluntary agreements, such as those exercised by CSIP, are being afforded considerable market power, as well as the ability to deter competition and innovation. Consider the possibility that some executives with CSIP member companies may own other companies, such as GoodRx, a website that offers drug price comparisons among U.S. chain pharmacies, which are in turn commercially advantaged by CSIP’s actions. GoodRx (a company which this author admires) competes for search engine traffic with online pharmacies, safe and rogue – and with If its competitors are disadvantaged by CSIPs actions then GoodRx and its owners profit.

To ensure CSIP’s, and other similar voluntary private sector consortiums’ powers are used properly, lawmakers should consider the appointment of an independent ombudsman to oversee these agreements. The ombudsman would analyze voluntary agreements, such as those affecting access to medication online, in order to make sure private sector actions aren’t blocking Internet competition and are consistent with the Administration’s other goals of due process, free speech, free trade and transparency.

Through IPEC’s activities, the conflation of rogue online pharmacies with safe international online pharmacies was strongly encouraged if not mandated by the Obama administration. IPEC is an executive office created by an act of Congress to protect intellectual property rights. It may be inappropriate for IPEC to work in tandem with drug companies and U.S. pharmacies in the formation of public health policies regarding the distribution of medicines, as doing so may give the appearance that protection of intellectual property rights and U.S. corporate interests, not the public health, are the driving force behind federal policies toward online pharmacies.


[1] McQuillen, William, “Google, Microsoft Join Obama to Combat Knockoff Drugs,” December 14, 2010, Bloomberg News; see [Last accessed 10/21/14].

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