Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Bing's Disservice to Online Drug Safety

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Bing's Disservice to Online Drug Safety

Article excerpt

Key Points

* To warn consumers of the dangers of importing medicine, the search engine Bing has placed pop-up warnings against foreign websites selling medicines. Unfortunately, the sites targeted are credentialed foreign pharmacies, while potentially rogue sites are in effect given a clean bill of health by having no pop-up warnings.

* Original research confirms this folly. Using the search terms "Viagra" and "Canada," I identified websites and ordered the prescription drug Viagra from nine credentialed sites with warnings; all sold legitimate Viagra. I also ordered Viagra from 14 uncredentialed sites with no warnings; two of these sites sold fake Viagra. To add insult to possible injury, the uncredentialed sites were on average 25 percent more expensive.

* Bing must change its policy, since the current one is driving traffic to unsafe sites and away from legitimate international pharmacies.

It is well-known that Americans pay more for medication than the citizens of other nations. To avoid high prices, some enterprising Americans, perhaps as many as four million, buy from foreign web pharmacies, often at under half the price they would pay in the US. (1)

Until web sales took off, many Americans, particularly seniors in states bordering Canada, would travel over the border to buy their medication. A string of pharmacies in Western Canada sprung up to service this demand. Early in this century, demand switched from physically visiting Canada to online purchases from Canadian websites.

There are obvious risks to purchasing medication online due to the anonymity of the web, where rogue actors have established sites to sell bogus medicine and steal identities. Therefore, groups such as the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) and PharmacyChecker.com were established to credential websites linked with real pharmacies selling proper medicine and assist patients looking for cheaper good-quality medication.

US pharmacies and all major pharmaceutical companies always disliked Americans purchasing foreign pharmaceuticals since the former directly lost business and the latter wanted to maintain consistently higher prices on medicines in the US. The argument advanced by the pharmaceutical companies is that higher pricing leads to more research and development. While there is truth to this stance, higher prices harm millions of poor or underinsured Americans, who may forgo or not take their medication as often as prescribed to save money.

With a nod to this reality, historically the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed individuals to import a 90-day supply of most prescription medicines, even though the law forbids such importation. While importation is prevented primarily to inhibit price arbitrage, it is often argued that importation aids safety. (2)

Recently, due to the alarming increase in fatal opioid overdoses fueled predominantly from foreign sources, legislative efforts and policy have increased the powers of various agencies, including the FDA, to intercept and destroy medicine imports. Clearly the target is illegally trafficked narcotics, especially opioids. Yet other medicines, such as personal imports of life-saving medicines, may be prevented in the process, as companies seek to limit any potential liability and packages are stopped without much reason. (3)

Fortunately this new opioid law--known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act--includes a measure protecting those importing drugs for "personal or household use," putting into law, albeit not exhaustively, the sentiment that limited personal importation will be tolerated. (4) However, reports persist of the FDA interdicting drugs intended for personal use. (5) It is too early to tell how these recent policy measures are affecting drug imports systematically, but search engines and payment companies are clearly being pressured to limit people's ability to import medicine. …

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