Commentary

Illegal Pharmacies Sell Drugs via Social Media

My curiosity is piqued by any story that involves the words “rogue pharmacist.” And in its 2011 Report the International Narcotics Control Board says these amoral apothecaries are using a variety of social media to illegally market prescription drugs to young people online. What’s more, the drug hawkers are apparently quite good at their job.

Reuters quotes INCB president Hamid Ghodse at a news conference in London earlier this week, where he warned that “the rogue pharmacists used social media such as YouTube or Facebook to draw people to chatrooms and engage them in a variety of ways which, in the first instance, you do not see as that they are marketing the drug.” Internet pharmacies also use social media to publicize their websites, according to Ghodse, who added that the same businesses may sell illegal drugs too (as distinct from legitimate drugs sold illegally).

National governments are aware of the threat posed by the online drug trade, but aren’t necessarily doing anything about it, according to the INCB, which notes, “a number of countries have prohibited either all operations of Internet pharmacies or the sale of internationally controlled substances through the Internet. However, while legislation may be in place to respond to the guidelines, the level of actual implementation and monitoring varies.” While there are a number of reasons for this, “the authorities of several countries mentioned they lacked the technology, human resources and expertise to identify and counter such illegal operations.” Another contributing factor was “lack of cooperation with Internet service providers.”

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Of course, social media is just one channel among many online options for illegal drug marketers, as anyone with an email account knows: “Illegal Internet pharmacies also have continued to advertise with spam sent via e-mail as opposed to via social networking sites; nearly 25 per cent of all spam e-mail messages are advertisements for medicines.”

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