[Ip-health] A battle over verifying online Canadian pharmacies goes to court

Gabriel Levitt gabriel.levitt at gmail.com
Thu Aug 15 16:23:03 PDT 2019


A battle over verifying online Canadian pharmacies goes to court
By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot AUGUST 14, 2019
https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2019/08/14/canada-importation-drug-prices/


As more Americans look to Canada for cheaper medicines, a company whose
website is devoted to verifying prescription drugs sold by online
pharmacies is suing five organizations, including two with ties to the
pharmaceutical industry, for allegedly running a campaign to manipulate and
suppress information available to consumers.

In its lawsuit [http://freepdfhosting.com/d483e00439.pdf],
PharmacyChecker.com claims the groups, including the National Association
of Boards of Pharmacy, have essentially created a type of shadow regulation
through private agreements with “key internet gatekeepers,” such as Google,
to “choke off” information about importing medicines from online pharmacies
in Canada and other countries.

The company argues that the groups, with backing from the pharmaceutical
industry, work to cast doubt about the safety of purchasing medicines from
online pharmacies. These groups and the “interests behind them benefit from
higher U.S. drug prices, and they do not want competition from
international pharmacies,” stated the lawsuit, which was filed in federal
court in White Plains, N.Y.

For instance, PharmacyChecker.com maintained the groups claim “safe”
international pharmacies that sell to consumers in the U.S. are “rogue,”
“unapproved,” or “not recommended.” Consequently, these “misinformation
campaigns” are used to “fool consumers” and search engines by “implying
that they are illegal and unsafe,” according to the lawsuit.

“We have fought pharma rhetoric for many years. But now we need the courts
to fight what we see as an underhanded flow of misinformation distorting
online search results, denying Americans information to safely access
affordable medicine,” Tod Cooperman, the PharmacyChecker.com chief
executive, said in a statement.

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And through the use of rival services, PharmacyChecker.com also argued the
groups have harmed its own business, which provides information to
consumers about online pharmacies and pricing.

For instance, the NABP and LegitScript also verify online pharmacies. The
Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies counts GoodRx, which provides consumers
with drug pricing data, among its members. Eli Lilly (LLY) is a backer [
https://tarbell.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/png2pdf.pdf] of Alliance for
Safe Online Pharmacies, according to the suit. And the Partnership for Safe
Medicines reportedly has ties to the PhRMA industry trade group.

A LegitScript spokesman declined to comment. We asked the other
organizations for comment and will update you accordingly.

In arguing its case, PharmacyChecker.com alleged that the National
Association of Boards of Pharmacy worked through the Center for Safe
Internet Pharmacies to convince the Google and Bing search engines to
penalize “Not Recommended Sites” [
https://safe.pharmacy/not-recommended-sites/] in their search results. Late
last year, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy listed
PharmacyChecker.com, even though the website is not a pharmacy and does not
sell medicines, the suit stated.

Consequently, the top results for “online pharmacies” in Google search
previously included a link to PharmacyChecker.com’s directory of accredited
online pharmacies. But those results have moved down many pages. And last
month, a warning box began appearing when users clicked search results for
PharmacyChecker on Microsoft’s Bing, denying the link and directing users
instead to information from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy,
Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, and LegitScript, the suit stated.

The lawsuit arrives as importation has become a red-hot topic within the
larger national debate over the cost of prescription medicines. A growing
number of Americans, for instance, are now traveling to Canada to purchase
insulin. And the Trump administration recently outlined a plan to allow
state governments, wholesalers and pharmacies to import medicines from
Canada.

But the Trump plan faces obstacles, notably from the Canadian government,
which is concerned about domestic supplies that drug makers could squeeze
in order to prevent medicines from being diverted to the U.S. Moreover, the
plan does not address personal importation, specifically, which the Food
and Drug Administration permits, but under limited arrangements.

The pharmaceutical industry, meanwhile, has fiercely criticized personal
importation for years, arguing that Americans could too easily purchase
counterfeit or adulterated medicines from unverified online pharmacies.
Such concerns have also been expressed by regulators, in particular, four
former FDA commissioners, who have publicly argued against personal
importation.

Federal authorities, meanwhile, have been attempting to crackdown.

Earlier this year, the FDA [
https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2019/02/28/fda-importation-canada-canarx-drug-prices/]
warned one of the largest Canadian brokers for violating interstate
commerce by sending unapproved and misbranded drugs to self-insured local
governments and private employers. And last year, a Canadian online
pharmacy company that figured prominently in a scandal several years ago
over a counterfeit cancer medicine sold to U.S. doctors was fined $34
million [
https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2018/04/16/canada-online-pharmacy-importation/
].


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