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“Psst! Hey kid, I’m an affiliate marketer. Want some drugs?”

The Industry Standard reports that a former Internet pharmacy affiliate marketer named Mike Geiger was a featured speaker at the WebbyConnect conference a few weeks ago. The Standard says that Gieger:

used to have what sounded like a thriving side business setting up sites that sent affiliate traffic to illicit pharmaceutical sites.

The Standard reports that Gieger, in his presentation,

…was unrepentant about his role in the trade. Affiliate marketing is a “completely legit business,” he said, and went on to describe himself as a mere middleman uninvolved with the actual distribution of the drugs. “Why did I choose pharmaceuticals? It was very simple,” he said. “[It was] because I would get up to 45% of whatever I sold.”

Here’s a simple question. First, let’s assume that the website Gieger operated was selling controlled substances like Xanax, Phentermine, or Ambien without a valid prescription, or any prescription at all. (Although frankly, the same point can be made if the drugs are any prescription drugs, even non-controlled ones.)

What’s the difference between what Gieger was doing and a person who stands on a street corner and says, “Hey kid…come with me and I’ll take you to the crack house down the street where you can get some really good stuff,” and then pockets 45% of the crack cocaine sale without ever touching the drugs?

The answer is, there’s no difference. The guy on the street corner can also claim that he’s not the one actually distributing the drugs. But does that absolve him of responsibility for the illicit distribution? Of course not: he’s the point man, the lookout for customers, the facilitator of the transaction. He’s the one that enables the actual distributor to make the sale and hide behind a shield of anonymity.

The same concept is at work for affiliates of rogue Internet pharmacy networks. The affiliate marketer who sets up a website selling these drugs may not handle or dispense the actual drugs. But he’s part of the drug dealing scheme or conspiracy: he recruits the customers and shares responsibility for the sale.

Gieger’s protestation that he lacks any responsibility for the transaction should not go unchallenged. And it’s an important wake-up call for those in the policy arena who want to see a reduction in the number of websites illicitly offering controlled substance prescription drugs.