Google closes off online pharmacy advertising for non-certified sites

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - January/February 2010

Only sites certified by NABP (in the US) and CIPA (Canada) will be allowed to purchase AdWords

Some of the Wild West antics of online pharmacies on the ‘Net will be closed off at the end of this month, as Google has announced that it will accept only accredited online pharmacies’ advertising. For more than five years, the National Assn. of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP; Mt Prospect, IL) has sought to establish its VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) as the primary means of policing online pharmacies (in Canada, a roughly comparable program has been run by the Canadian International Pharmacy Assn., of Winnipeg, MB; CIPA was set up expressly for Canadian pharmacies selling to the US).

A survey of online pharmacies by NABP in 2008 showed that 96% of them were in violation of one or more professional standards for pharmacy practice; a main failing was the lack of pharmacists reviewing and authorizing prescription fulfillment. “For too long, rogue Web sites posing as legitimate pharmacies have continued, unabated, to peddle substandard, tainted, and counterfeit drugs to unwitting patients,” says NABP President Gary A. Schnabel, RN, RPh. “Google’s policy change is a major step toward ridding the Internet of these operations, and we applaud Google’s commitment to patient safety.”

“We’ve been highly critical of search engines that have permitted illegitimate online pharmacies to advertise fake, substandard and unauthorized medicines,” says Marv Shepherd, PhD, head of the Partnership for Safe Medicines (Washington, DC), a group trying to prevent the distribution of counterfeit meds. “This is a significant step toward protecting consumers online and thwarting the growing threat of counterfeit drugs.”

Google previewed the policy change in a posting to its Adwords blog, stating that “AdWords advertisers who aren't accredited by VIPPS or CIPA will no longer see their online pharmacy ads displayed once this policy change comes into effect.” One of the losers in this policy change is the White Plains, NY firm of, which has offered a verification process unaffiliated with any professional pharmacy association.

One complication: only 19 pharmacy organizations have gone through the certification process, which involves inspections and can take upwards of six months. The leading chain drugstores, several PBMs, and a couple online pharmacy businesses have earned the certification.

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