If you're a frequent visitor, you might notice that we've updated the data that appears on our home page, describing how many Internet pharmacies there are, how many are legitimate (or rogue), and that sort of thing.
We get a lot of questions from policymakers, companies and everyday Internet users: How many Internet pharmacies are there? What percentage are legitimate? LegitScript's database is, as far as we know, the largest database of Internet pharmacies (non-spam ones in particular) in the world, so we think we have some pretty good market data. One of the things we're going to try to do this year is roll out interesting market data and statistics.
Why did the numbers change?
On an ongoing basis, we try to continually review our data to make sure it's as accurate as possible. This usually results in changes in the numbers of pharmacies as displayed on our homepage. But this year, we implemented some new methodology. Under the old system, some Internet pharmacies that had recently gone offline (e.g., those we notified a Registrar about, or that were taken offline for another reason) were counted in our total number of Internet pharmacies. But this led to a sort of philosophical tree-falling-in-a-forest question: after an Internet pharmacy goes offline, is it still an Internet pharmacy? Well, no -- it isn't anything, since there's no content. But yes, it still is, if it's registered to the same person or company. So how should the numbers be displayed on our home page?
We figured it was time to come up with a better way to reflect the data in our database. As of today, we have just over 215,000 current or former Internet pharmacies in our database; of those, about 40,000 are online and actively selling prescription drugs. (The rest are inactive: offline, parked, or deleted from the registry.) Of those, 96.7% fail to comply with legal requirements. Only about 3% are legitimate.
Ultimately, we think that at any one time, excluding spam Internet pharmacies, there are between 40,000 and 50,000 active Internet pharmacy websites operating on the Internet. (That figure rises quite a bit if you include spam, but it also fluctuates enormously based on spammers' activities.) So what's the margin of error? Well, that depends on what Donald Rumseld (former US Defense Secretary) famously called "unknown unknowns" -- that is, the number of Internet pharmacies that aren't in our database. (Those are "unknown unknowns" because if we knew about the Internet pharmacies, then we'd add them to our database...natch.) Unknown unknowns are pretty difficult to estimate, but LegitScript's staff reviews hundreds of websites every day from multiple sources, and that gives us a pretty good sense of how much we're missing and why. Based on that, we feel pretty confident that at any one time, we generally have at least 95% of Internet pharmacies in our database. Our sense is that those we miss we eventually get, it might just take a few days. (For example, if you registered a new online pharmacy today, we might not identify and classify it until next week.)
One other helpful thing to know is that not all Internet pharmacies (current or former) are "published" -- that is, made public via our "Is It Legit?" search box. Many are, and you can search for them in the "Is It Legit?" box. There are a variety of reasons that some aren't, but one reason is that it still may be under review for legitimacy. We always want to stand by our "rogue" classifications in particular, and if LegitScript's staff is still analyzing the website, we might hold off on publicly declaring it to be illicit. Quite a few former Internet pharmacies, or those that are now offline, won't return any results.
Over the coming months, expect to see some more data about the Internet pharmacy market, available both at legitscript.com and legitscriptblog.com.