NABP enters a 'registry agreement' with ICANN for the .Pharmacy web-address suffix

The hope is that NABP's oversight will limit illicit online-pharmacy activity

In a step-by-step process that has taken over two years to date, the National Assn. of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP; Mt. Prospect, IL) has won the interim approval of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names (ICANN) to manage the “onboarding process” for organizations that seek to use “.pharmacy” in their Internet URLs. The .pharmacy suffix (technically, a generic top-level domain, or gTLD) is one of hundreds of new gTLDs that were opened up for consideration by ICANN several years ago; they are additions to the familiar .com, .org, .gov and other suffixes that are commonly used on the Internet.

NABP’s stated goal is to create policies “to ensure that only legitimate website operators that adhere to pharmacy laws in the jurisdictions in which they are based and to which they sell medicine will be able to register domain names in .pharmacy.” This won’t happen overnight; NABP is now in a “pre-delegation testing” process to verify its ability to manage the technical aspects of the agreement. In “Amidst a proliferation of rogue websites selling counterfeit and substandard drug products, the .pharmacy domain will give consumers an easy way to be assured that they are using a safe, legitimate Internet pharmacy,” stated Joseph Adams, RPh, president of NABP, in an announcement. “Toward this goal, NABP is very pleased to become an official registry operator under the agreement with ICANN and to be moving forward with steps to launch the new .pharmacy gTLD.”

The first .pharmacy URLs are expected to be launched in the fall. Almost as important as the technical specifications, a consumer outreach program will also be started, with the goal of steering online shoppers to .pharmacy sites and to avoid the non-regulated sites.

NABP has some challenging jurisdictional issues to resolve. The NABP announcement says that its registry agreement “also includes a number of safeguards intended to protect consumers around the world.” While it characterizes itself as an “independent, international” association, most of its members are officials of US state governments. NABP does have representation of eight Canadian provinces, Australia and New Zealand, but otherwise its international presence is virtually nonexistent. On the other hand, the bid to manage .pharmacy was supported by the International Pharmaceutical Federation, the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines and Interpol, as well as a number of US and non-US-based pharmaceutical companies. Almost at the same time that ICANN was finalizing its approval of NABP’s application, the European Commission announced a next step in its effort to certify online pharmacies operating within the EC community (an action that more closely parallels NABP’s longstanding VIPPS program, rather than the .pharmacy initiative). A final twist is that the management of ICANN itself is being debated in international circles, with efforts by numerous countries to loosen its ties to the US government.