'Dot-pharmacy' domain name is open for business at NABP

National association wins oversight for the valuable top-level domain (TLD), begins approving online pharmacies' use of it

Following a nearly two-year-long process, the National Assn. of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP; Mt. Prospect, IL) now has control of the “.pharmacy” top-level domain in the US, and is setting up a network of international regulatory groups “to facilitate evaluation of international domain name applications,” according to an NABP statement. The TLD management is authorized through ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the international nonprofit that regulates Internet addresses. NABP’s effort is part of a broader campaign, waged by it and others, to corral the unregulated and frequently illicit commerce in pharmaceuticals purchased via online pharmacies.

In the US, NABP will require .pharmacy owners to submit an application, file documentation for review, and pay a fee. Online pharmacies that have NABP’s various accreditations (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, VIPPS, and Vet-VIPPS for veterinary products, and e-Advertiser for non-dispensing pharmacies) can already obtain the .pharmacy TLD. A limited application phase is currently under way now through April 30, and after June 3, any entity seeking to use the .pharmacy TLD will be able to apply.

In January, NABP released the latest results from its ongoing review of online pharmacies. Out of 10,900 that have been reviewed, nearly 97% “do not follow pharmacy laws and standards established to protect public health,” says NABP. Obvious violations, such as not requiring a doctor’s prescription, are compounded by sketchy credit policies and instances of marketing branded products as generics (some sites go as far as to offer the “US-approved” product for one price, and a “non-US” product for another.)

In theory, once the .pharmacy TLD is well established, consumers will be guided to purchase products only from those sites, and not the many “Canada Pharmacy.com” sites that have been used by US consumers in the past (many of which have little to nothing to do with Canada). But that will then put the onus on NABP and its collaborators to follow through on proper use of online dispensing—a tall order. FDA, US Customs and Border Patrol, the EU’s Interpol and other law-enforcement agencies have run annual “Pangea” campaigns to flush out bogus online pharmacies and confiscate counterfeit product, but they are still rife on the Internet.