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The Fight to Combat Illegal Online Pharmacies

August 1, 2012
By Marjorie Clifton, Executive Director, Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies

Marjorie Clifton, Executive Director, CSIPOver 96 percent of websites claiming to sell prescription medications are out of compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards.  The Partnership at estimates that one in six Americans, approximately 36 million people have bought medication online without a valid prescription.  In 2010, the U.S. market alone accounted for an estimated $75 billion in sales for counterfeit drug makers; a lucrative prospect for criminal networks.  There has also been a rising trend of malware appearing on illegal pharmacy sites – designed to steal your information and used for credit card or identity theft. took action on 47,000 illegal pharmaceutical sites last year alone and 27,000 of them contained malware.

But filling a prescription online is not always a bad thing.  It can be more convenient and less expensive.  However, there are important factors consumers should consider when purchasing pharmaceuticals over the Internet:  a) unsafe websites are difficult to identify; b) medicine from unsafe sources can be toxic and c) criminal networks interested in financial and identity theft may be behind these sites.  The newly formed Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) is working hard to address all three.

How can this problem be fixed? The prevalence of these illegal sites has made it virtually impossible for the law enforcement community to address the problem alone.  So, CSIP was created to provide a first-ever private sector solution, and among the first public-private partnerships, formed to protect consumers from rogue Internet pharmacies.  The mission of the organization is four fold:  to educate consumers about the threat of illegal pharmacies, to work with law enforcement to eliminate the criminal networks, to share information among companies about illegal sites and to aid in building a “white list” of safe sites.

Currently, CSIP members include eleven corporations who are part of the Internet ecosystem. During a recent event these companies formally announced their partnership and kicked-off their communications campaign which will include a website with a URL checker where consumers can test the safety of pharmacy sites, search engine advertising and PSA videos.  In addition, they will be working with the FDA on Operation Pangaea to share information about illegal sites and work together to address the threat to consumers.

The idea of deadly, counterfeit drugs is not new.  But the ability for consumers to so easily be tricked into purchasing them online is extremely alarming.  We are thrilled that these partners have come together to create chokepoints throughout the entire online purchasing process.  Together we can eliminate this problem.  Learn more at

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