UPS Hands Over $40 Million for Helping Internet Pharmacies Ship Illicit Meds

UPS Hands Over $40 Million for Helping Internet Pharmacies Ship Illicit Meds

April 2nd, 2013 // 2:49 pm @

In the latest effort to crack down on the Internet pharmacy trade, United Parcel Service late last week agreed to forfeit $40 million in payments that were received from illicit online pharmacies and to adhere to a compliance program designed to ensure that such pharmacies will not be able to use its storied services to distribute drugs (here it is). As part of the agreement, the feds are not prosecuting UPS for any criminal violations (read the letter here).

The move comes amid ongoing concerns over the safety of the supply chain and ongoing reports of counterfeit medications, such as the Avastin treatment (see this). nearly two years ago, Google agreed to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place ads through its AdWords program that targeted US consumers and, ultimately, caused medicines to be imported illegally (read this). However, a study issued last year maintained that some Internet pharmacies are safe (back story here).

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UPS had, effectively, looked the other way when agreeing to do business with some Internet pharmacies, according to documents released by the US Attorney in San Francisco. Even though UPS marketing execs were alerted to law enforcement actions taken against some Internet pharmacies, the package distributor did not discourage doing business with these operations, but instead instructed its employees not to offer pricing discounts.

In one example cited, UPS employees struck a deal with an Internet pharmacy called UCP in 2005 without researching its business practices or verifying whether licenses were valid in states to which drugs would be shipped and if the operatoin had been listed on the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites registry run by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Although the pharmacy was closed in 2006 for illegally shipping controlled substances, UPS continued to ship for various offshore Internet that were using UPS’ master account for UCP through April 2007. Despite being on notice that some pharmacies were operating illegally, UPS failed to implement procedures to halt shipments (you can read more here).

The US Drug Enforcement Agency is “aggressively targeting the diversion of controlled substances, as well as those who facilitate their unlawful distribution,” DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, said in a statement in which she called the investigation into UPS “significant.”

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However, one person familiar with online pharmacies says the feds should be careful to help carriers distinguish between operators. “the FDA and DOJ should be careful not to adversely impact Americans who, because of high prices here in the US, personally and safely import the same medications sold here at a much lower cost from licensed pharmacies that require prescriptions,” says Gabriel Levitt of PharmacyChecker.com, which helps people find safe online pharmacies from Canada. “Targeting dangerous online pharmacies makes sense but seizing mail deliveries of real prescription orders would be detrimental to the public health because more Americans will go without needed medications.”

He notes that, at a recent industry conference, a DEA agent pointed out that “the Internet is not a big a problem as we all think it is… especially when dealing with controlled substances.”

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