Some background first. Drugs sold in American brick and mortar pharmacies and through websites verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) VIPPS program or mail order firms are almost always safe. Drugs bought through other outlets – such as rogue websites with post office boxes in other countries – are unsafe and at times, downright deadly. These drugs are purchased by people who have been fooled by the false claims on well designed websites. Because of these criminal Internet-based enterprises, the federal Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator estimates that 8 percent of bulk drugs coming into the U.S. fail to meet safety standards, while 10 percent of the global drug trade deals with similarly unsafe medicines. There have been major thefts of tractor-trailer shipments of prescription drugs – and, some of these medicines have found their way to the shady peddlers as well. Theft is a problem because the second any drug leaves the carefully controlled and policed supply chain, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to know where it’s been stored, how it’s been handled and whether or not it’s become contaminated. And this presents a health risk to anybody who takes any type of medicine.
All this means that the United States cannot let its guard down when it comes to securing the drug supply here at home. The Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to fight counterfeit online drug peddlers in concert with major search and Internet access providers deserve full support in Congress. Even in a divided political environment, it’s a commonsense public safety step everyone should be able to support. To confront prescription drug theft, Congress should also move forward on a law proffered by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Jay Rockefeller, Amy Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown that stiffens penalties and provides law enforcement agencies with new tools to crack down on the criminals that steal or resell drugs. Every major theft of pharmaceutical cargo could conceivably endanger hundreds of lives.
Given the Internet’s role in moving counterfeit drugs, the United States cannot address the entire problem on its own. Effective laws, for the most part, have driven fly-by-night “pharmacies” out of this country. But the criminals that direct these enterprises still prey on Americans. Many maintain post office boxes in English-speaking countries like Canada and the UK but sell unapproved medicines manufactured in Asian and Middle Eastern countries with minimal or no quality control standards. While there’s no way to drive all of them out of business, coordinating with foreign governments, Internet search providers, and international organizations can make a real dent in the problem and secure safe medicines for everyone in the United States.
Counterfeit medicines, in short, pose a real, continuing problem. The United States government has taken steps to deal with them and now, it must help lead other nations to begin doing the same.