Web Registries Get OK to Shut Down Rogue Pharmacies

October 22, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

New legislation gives US-based Web hosting companies the go-ahead to remove shady online pharmacies without a warrant. The new rule makes it harder to market counterfeit drugs, and for consumers to purchase medication without a prescription.

If you had a drug dealer selling heroin out of your living room, chances are you would do something about it. That’s the predicament many Web hosting and domain registration companies have faced, as the number of illegal online pharmacies has spiked in the past few years.

President Bush, last week, signed into a law a bill that would give companies such as GoDaddy and Lunarpages the ability to remove Web sites of online pharmacies that are not registered as government-approved medication sellers. Under the new rules, if a Web site is making drugs available for sale in the US and they don't comply with the statute, the hosting companies can shut the site down regardless of where the pharmacy is located.

“We are seeing so many pharmaceuticals-a dramatic increase over the last three years-online,” said Christine Jones, general counsel for GoDaddy, host to 31 million online domains.  “We were looking for a better solution than simply redirecting domain names for SPAM, which is all we could do in the past.”

The legislation came into existence after Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) became involved with a case in which a teenager overdosed on Vicodin. The drugs were obtained from an online pharmacy without a prescription. The Senate version of the bill made its way through the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

“We’re one step closer to ending the practice of rogue pharmacies on the Internet,” said Feinstein in a release. “We can no longer stand back and allow these outfits to sell highly addictive medications to anyone with a computer mouse and a credit card.”

Jones notes that there is no statutory obligation for an online pharmacy to receive verified Internet pharmacy practice sites (VIPPS) certification. “VIPPS is an extra layer of protection, but there is no requirement that says if you are not certified by VIPPS, you can’t sell drugs online,” she said. “We were looking for something that would make the sale of drugs without registration illegal. Just like child pornography is illegal and taken down immediately on the Web.”

By definition, the largest server providers also host the most illegal pharmacy sites. Last year, GoDaddy redirected 1,300 pharmacy related domain names for SPAM. In effect, if a spammer is sending emails from illegalpharmacy.com, and the host receives a SPAM complaint, the domain is taken away. GoDaddy wanted a tool that would easily allow the company to take a Web site offline without having to buy and test the drugs, get a prescription, or make people see a doctor.

“[Under the old rules] we couldn’t take your content away, but you are not allowed to use domain names that are registered to GoDaddy,” Jones said. “We weren’t allowed to take the underlying Web site down, because they weren’t doing anything wrong.”

Even though the registration period isn’t for another six months, GoDaddy has taken a number of URLs that it knew to be violating the prescription rules and have redirected them.

 “A lot goes into that law enforcement investigation before a site can come down-we would like to squash that a little earlier,” Jones said. “I always try to encourage people, when they come across a shady site, figure out who the hosting company is and send an email to their abuse department. We rely on those notices to do our investigation.”