Q & A | Prescription drugs online

Fighting illegal online sales of prescription drugs

Overdoses from prescription drugs now outpace those from heroin, cocaine and crystal meth combined.

Why don't law enforcement officers go online and run a sting?

They do at times, and those have led to arrests. Until last year, though, online pharmacies could contend that an online "doctor'' had written a prescription based on symptoms provided by the buyer. Proving criminal intent to juries was often difficult.

What changed last year?

In October, Congress passed the Ryan Haight Act, named after a California teenager who overdosed on online Vicodin. Now online prescriptions must be based on hands-on exams. Violations are criminal offenses.

Why do so many Web sites still sell drugs without prescriptions?

Many pharmacies are now based overseas, which poses jurisdictional problems. Web sites can register domain names anonymously all over the world.

Can't credit card companies stop these purchases?

Visa and MasterCard have pressured member financial institutions to cut off vendors who underwrite illegal operations. But rogue Web sites change names frequently, route payments through third parties and accept e-checks, Western Union or cash on delivery.

Why don't search engines block key words that lead to illegal drugs.

Blocking key words also would eliminate legitimate search results, like government health advisories and academic studies.

Search engines boot child porn Web sites from their results. Why not rogue pharmacies?

Whatever exists on the Web automatically shows up in searches.

American University law professor Wendy Seltzer, an expert in intellectual property, notes that child porn images that pop up from a search are illegal in most parts of the world. However, the contents of rogue pharmacy Web sites are not illegal in the United States, just the sales they lead to. In some countries, even those sales are legal.

If search engines "start responding to a few types of complaints,'' Seltzer says, "they will face an ever increasing number of requests to police things that people don't like.''

Sometimes sponsored ads from rogue pharmacies show up on Yahoo and Google. Why is that?

Both search engines say their advertising policies prohibit ads for pharmacies that do not require valid prescriptions. But the St. Petersburg Times found several instances of such ads. Neither Yahoo nor Google would discuss why the ads appear. In one case, Google removed an ad, then a nearly identical one reappeared later under a slightly different name.

Q&A | Prescription drugs online

Overdoses from prescription drugs now outpace those from heroin, cocaine and crystal meth combined.

Why don't law enforcement officers go online and run a sting?

They do at times, and those have led to arrests. Until last year, though, online pharmacies could contend that an online "doctor'' had written a prescription based on symptoms provided by the buyer. Proving criminal intent to juries was often difficult.

What changed last year?

In October, Congress passed the Ryan Haight Act, named after a California teenager who overdosed on online Vicodin. Now online prescriptions must be based on hands-on exams. Violations are criminal offenses.

Why do so many Web sites still sell drugs without prescriptions?

Many pharmacies are now based overseas, which poses jurisdictional problems. Web sites can register domain names anonymously all over the world.

Can't credit card companies stop these purchases?

Visa and MasterCard have pressured member financial institutions to cut off vendors who underwrite illegal operations. But rogue Web sites change names frequently, route payments through third parties and accept e-checks, Western Union or cash on delivery.

Why don't search engines block key words that lead to illegal drugs?

Blocking key words also would eliminate legitimate search results, like government health advisories and academic studies.

Search engines boot child porn Web sites from their results. Why not rogue pharmacies?

Whatever exists on the Web automatically shows up in searches.

American University law professor Wendy Seltzer, an expert in intellectual property, notes that child porn images that pop up from a search are illegal in most parts of the world. However, the contents of rogue pharmacy Web sites are not illegal in the United States, just the sales they lead to. In some countries, even those sales are legal.

If search engines "start responding to a few types of complaints,'' Seltzer says, "they will face an ever increasing number of requests to police things that people don't like.''

Sometimes sponsored ads from rogue pharmacies show up on Yahoo and Google. Why?

Both search engines say their advertising policies prohibit ads for pharmacies that do not require valid prescriptions. But the Times found several instances of such ads. Neither Yahoo nor Google would discuss why the ads appear. In one case, Google removed an ad, then a nearly identical one reappeared under a slightly different name.

Fighting illegal online sales of prescription drugs 05/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 25, 2009 5:34pm]

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