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The Latest on Internet Pharmacies, Supplements, Designer Drugs, and Other High-Risk Merchants

Huffington Post: Columbia Grad Students Discuss Online Pharmacies on YouTube

Columbia University Graduate School students in journalism just published an article worth reading in the Huffington Post. It’s about rogue online pharmacies using YouTube to reach customers and improve SEO. (LegitScript was quoted several times in the article.)

The notion that rogue online pharmacies would post videos on YouTube isn’t surprising; after all, YouTube/Google Video tends to improve SEO, which is of key importance to rogue online pharmacies. The more interesting discussion touches on companies that profit from displaying ads for, or facilitating the displaying of ads for, rogue online pharmacies. Although unpaid search results for rogue online pharmacies are probably protected by the Communications Decency Act, this doesn’t apply to paid ads (also called “sponsored search results”).

One of the approved advertisers that the article discusses is WholesaleVIPClub.com. If you simply visit that domain, it doesn’t appear to have any relationship to online pharmacies. Instead, you have to visit a subdomain, such as cheapmeds.wholesalevipclub.com (or, in the past, soma.wholesalevipclub.com, oxycodone.wholesalevipclub.com, et cetera).

LegitScript’s quarrel with wholevipclub.com isn’t the inclusion of drugs like soma, Xanax, oxycodone and others in the domain name. That isn’t illegal (although it is pretty shady in most cases). And, an Internet pharmacy that simply lists Oxycodone as one of its products isn’t, by virtue of that fact alone, violating the law. (It has to comply with the Ryan Haight Act and other laws, of course.) Rather, we looked at what cheapmeds.wholesalevipclub.com was doing and found that it violated several of our standards in several respects, including referring paid members to websites that violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

But the other interesting, and to us disturbing, thing is that it gets Internet users to pay a fee for information that is available for free elsewhere: it is one of at least a dozen websites, mostly run by individuals in Florida, Texas, and overseas, that get you to sign up with a monthly fee, and then just gives you a list of websites that they copied from another online pharmacy verification service that provides that information for free on its own website. It isn’t illegal, but LegitScript’s view on this is that if information is available for free elsewhere, charging a fee for it isn’t looking out for the best interests of the patient. The fact that nearly all of these “referral” websites are registered anonymously at the very least raises an important question: what do the owners of websites like cheapmeds.wholesalevipclub.com have to hide? (Perhaps they don’t want outraged customers to contact them directly once they find out that they paid for information that is available for free elsewhere.)