Updated to include Microsoft’s comments.
The pharmacy ads that appear alongside search results on Microsoft’s Bing are dominated by “rogue” companies, according to a report released yesterday by KnujOn, a spam-monitoring company, and LegitScript, a firm that verifies online pharmacies.
The report investigates the ads that appear when a person enters search terms such as “generic meds” or “online pharmacy” into Bing. Of the 69 advertisers that the company investigated, only seven were deemed to be legitimate. The remaining 62 did not require a prescription, in violation of US law, did not have a US address or offered to ship drugs from outside of the US.
“We were able to get prescription drugs without a prescription, and some were counterfeit,” says John Horton, founder of LegitScript. LegitScript states that over 40,000 online pharmacies do not meet the certifications of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), which stipulate that companies must have a valid pharmacy license, a location in the US, and only dispense medicine with a valid prescription.
For certain drugs, federal law states not only that a user needs a prescription but also that the prescribing doctor must have a bona fide relationship with the patient, generally consisting of face-to-face contact and the sharing of medical information. The US Drug Enforcement Administration also prohibits certain controlled drugs from being imported into the US. The FDA also recommends that consumers buy pharmaceuticals online only from companies that are based in the US, require a prescription, and are licensed by the NABP. These regulations aim to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs and the dangers of taking unregulated medicine that may be adulterated, expired, or toxic.
Many of the pharmaceutical ads on major search engines do not comply with these standards, Bruen says. “Almost 90 percent of the pharmacy ads that we reviewed are for fake pharmacies. This has been going on for a while,” he adds.
The new report examined 10 online pharmacies in closer detail and confirmed through the websites’ FAQs or through live-chats that no prescription was needed to order prescription drugs. In two cases, the researchers purchased prescription drugs, one of which turned out to be counterfeit.
“If you look on the major search engines, you will find ads from pharmacies that are not legitimate, selling controlled substances,” says Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CAMA) at Columbia University.