Today, we are announcing something that might seem new, but really isn’t: the public-facing portion of LegitScript’s Internet pharmacy certification is expanding internationally. We’ve added 36 Internet pharmacies to our database that operate in the Chinese, French and UK markets to our publicly-published listing of approved Internet pharmacies, and will be adding more in those and other countries over coming weeks and months.
Why isn’t that new? For years, we’ve worked with Google, Bing, Visa, and other partners to let them know which Internet pharmacy merchants are legitimate and which are not in 19 countries, including China, South Korea, France, Germany, Turkey, Israel, Canada, and many more. As part of this process, we’ve treated Internet pharmacies in other countries as legitimate as long as they operate legally where the dispensing pharmacy is located and wherever they offer to ship drugs to, and we’ve steadily conveyed that information to our partners. On the other hand, those non-US Internet pharmacies designated as legitimate weren’t “published” (i.e., searchable) at legitscript.com. Now, we’ll be publishing Internet pharmacies designated as “legitimate” in other countries on a rolling basis.
Why Our Certification Program Is Going Global
The reason is simple and straightforward: there are legitimate Internet pharmacies operating in many countries around the world. The Internet is global, and our partners need to know about merchants and advertisers operating in multiple jurisdictions: a bank may be looking at an Internet merchant shipping OTC drugs in France, for example, and need to know if that pharmacy merchant is legitimate or not under the laws of France.
The Concept of Being Legitimate
To LegitScript, the basic concept of legitimacy means that the dispensing pharmacy must adhere to the laws and regulations not only where the pharmacy is located and registered, but also anywhere it offers to ship drugs to. If you are a patient in the Netherlands, let’s say, any Internet pharmacy offering to ship drugs to your Netherlands address has to comply with the laws in the Netherlands. We’re not just making that up: every country in the world has laws and regulations on this topic designed to protect patients, and our standards are designed to respect those laws and regulations.
As a practical matter, this means that with infrequent, rare exceptions, the online pharmacy has to restrict its shipping to the country where it is physically located and licensed as a pharmacy. In the United States, for example, nearly every state requires a pharmacy to be licensed (but not necessarily located) in that state in order to ship prescription drugs there — that is, to “practice pharmacy” in that state. And, the FDA has said that prescription drug importation is illegal. Consequently, as long as the law remains what it is, we can’t really conceive of a circumstance in which we’d ever be able to approve a “Canadian” Internet pharmacy targeting US customers. Or, a US pharmacy targeting Japanese customers, for that matter. (Of course, we’re happy to approve Canadian pharmacies only shipping to Canadian customers, as long as they comply with Canadian laws and regulations and aren’t shipping into the US.)
There are a few countries like Germany, where the regulatory structure permits a small number of non-German pharmacies to ship into the country. We’re fine with that: it’s legal in Germany, those pharmacies are playing by the rules, and what’s more, they are operating within Germany’s regulatory structure.
What LegitScript Certification Costs
Since LegitScript’s early days, we’ve tried to keep the certification process free. I’m glad to be able to say that for now, at least, we’re going to continue to offer certification for no cost. I have to offer the caveat that that could change at some point, but for now, we want to try and keep the certification program as something that we don’t charge for, at least for basic certification.
Let me explain my thinking on this. In a perfect world, a certification program should be offered for no cost, in order to offset the perception or suspicion that certification might just be a quid pro quo for payment, and that the certifier is willing to bend their standards for a little extra revenue. On the other hand, you have to keep the lights on somehow: our rent isn’t free, and LegitScript’s staff, like anyone else, prefers to get paychecks. To date, we’ve just operated the program as a loss-leader — our revenue is derived from monitoring contracts with companies like Google, Visa, Bing, and others, and we’ve just funded the program as part of our overall operating costs. But at some point, it’s not inconceivable that we’ll say, “Hey, look -- LegitScript certification has value, and we’re going to have to start charging for it in some way.” That might be entirely paid, or it might be a “freemium model,” in which the basic certification is free but some additional services are paid.
But, that day isn’t here yet. Will it ever be? I don’t know: it could be never, or it could be in a few months. We’re continuing to think through this.
Ultimately, however, we’re glad to expand the program internationally to countries where Internet pharmacies are legal. We’ll do our best to ensure that any Internet pharmacy offering to ship within or to a particular country is only classified as legitimate if they operate in full compliance with that country’s laws and regulations.