US Strong-Arms Canada Over Online Pharmacy Ads

07 June 2004

Canadian pharmacies selling drugs to patients without a prescription have been banned from advertising on Google and Yahoo. But this is not enough, according to US pharmacy boards and regulators.

The Federal Drug Administration's associate commissioner for external relations, Peter Pitts, had hoped for a firmer stance from the search engine giants. "Clearly Canada has a very strong regulatory system, but there are a lot of guys on both sides of the border who are profiteers masquerading as pharmacists", he says, as criticisms center on trafficking of unsafe drugs and [purportedly] reducing US innovation.

It remains illegal for US residents to buy drugs from Canadian pharmacies, even with a prescription. Moreover, banned pharmacies will still be accessible using searches carried out through Google and Yahoo.

Several Canadian pharmacies admit most customers are from the US, where drug prices are much higher. Pharmacies also benefit from Google and Yahoo's leniency regarding their accreditation.

Both search companies accept ads approved by Square Trade, a privately owned, self-styled accreditation system that charges low fees and does not carry out on-site inspections. State pharmacy boards would prefer clearance by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Although Yahoo insists it is not encouraging law-breaking, others do not hold this view. Internet-service provider America Online filters out Google's ads for Canadian pharmacies.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff