Crime doesn't pay; but advertising crime does

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — The U.S. Department of Justice may have once and for all exposed the man behind the curtain, revealing many online Canadian pharmacies for what they really are: drug pushers taking advantage of Americans in search of cheaper health care. And in doing so, the Justice Department may be uncovering a bigger issue: the creeping 15% of counterfeits worldwide that gradually are cracking the U.S. drug distribution system.

(THE NEWS: Report: Google co-founder knew about illegal pharmacy ads. For the full story, click here)

Not only did Google know full well that those illegal pharmacy ads promoting generic blue pills sans prescription likely were for counterfeit drugs, the company provided customer support to some of these Canadian online pharmacy advertisers to assist them in placing and optimizing their AdWords advertisements, and in improving the effectiveness of their websites from 2003 straight through to 2009, according to a Justice Department press release.

And it appeared they followed the same line of thinking that many Americans did who were in search of a less expensive way to pay for their medicines —  if it's coming out of Canada, it's gotta be safe, ay? "Although Google took steps to block pharmacies in countries other than Canada from advertising in the U.S. through AdWords, they continued to allow Canadian pharmacy advertisers to target consumers in the United States," the Justice Department stated. "Google was aware that U.S. consumers were making online purchases of prescription drugs from these Canadian online pharmacies, and that many of the pharmacies distributed prescription drugs, including controlled prescription drugs, based on an online consultation rather than a valid prescription from a treating medical practitioner."

According to the cover story in the Aug. 29 issue of Drug Store News, global drug counterfeiting is growing at 12% to 16% a year, and in 2010 generated as much as $75 billion in worldwide revenues.

The Food and Drug Administration has estimated the number of drug products made outside the United States but consumed domestically doubled from 2001 to 2008. And that may be a conservative estimate. Judging from the record half-billion forfeiture Google made to settle this issue, crime might not pay but advertising for those criminals certainly does. Because a good portion of the $500 million Google paid represented proceeds from those illegal Canadian pharmacy ads.

In a recent analysis of 8,000 rogue websites, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy concluded that 96% of them were out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws, and 85% didn’t require a valid prescription.

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