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Developing Fully Informed, Generally Acceptable Procedures for Online Access to Medicines

Earlier this year, The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) released findings from their 2021 survey on American Perceptions and Use of Online Pharmacies.

According to ASOP’s data, U.S. residents’ use of online pharmacies to purchase prescription medications continues to increase yearly. In 2021, 42% of Americans purchased medications from online pharmacies, either for themselves or family members under their care. This is a significant increase of 7% since just last year. While the survey indicates that 49% of these individuals did so for the first time this year, in part due to restrictions of COVID-19, 64% of those intend to continue purchasing medications online when the pandemic ends, due to convenience/accessibility and cost.

The ASOP survey also found a 9% increase in knowledge about risks in ordering online since 2020, with 38% now claiming to be informed. Meanwhile, it is encouraging that the survey finds 49% of Americans consult doctors/physicians, 30% have consulted pharmacists, and 12% have consulted nurses as part of their search for online pharmacies. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that unscrupulous operators exist online, and that additional measures need to be taken to protect consumers when they search for their medications on the Internet.

Like ASOP, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) believes that much still needs to be done to differentiate between safe online websites selling authenticate medications from licensed pharmacies locally regulated by health authorities—versus the unregulated, “rogue” online sources.

A year ago in these pages, CIPA commented on ASOP’s 2020 survey and called for collaboration in addressing the transnational complexities of online pharmacy and damage caused by ‘rogue’ actors that cloud the benefits of purchasing online and erode trust in safe Internet pharmacies.

Over the last five years, CIPA has collaborated in the development of globally accepted standards and norms for the transnational sale of medicines via the Internet, which recognize the realities of how people purchase online. We’ve talked about some of these initiatives also on these pages in Human Rights in the Digital Age, Online Pharmacies, and the “Brussels Principles” and Activists for Access to Medicines and Internet Rights Develop Brussels Principles for Online Sales.

Our annual participation at Rightscon and the Internet Governance Forum conferences has been to share and broaden understanding of the growing popularity of—and need for—ordering prescription maintenance medications from online pharmacies. We have collaborated with academics, activists, Internet policy experts, NGOs and human rights advocates in the creation of the BRUSSELS PRINCIPLES ON THE SALE OF MEDICINES OVER THE INTERNET, which sets out a framework for the creation of transnational protocols. We also continue to work within (ICANN) and the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network (I&JPN) to bring about greater understanding of the benefits, as well as the mischief, that exists in the online pharmacy space.

ASOP’s recent survey data once again demonstrates the urgency to develop the above-noted standards and norms for transnational availability of safe medicines. ASOP’s reporting on the U.S. experience of ordering prescription medications online is a valuable measure of the reality of how today’s consumers have adopted the Internet for all aspects of purchasing—what ASOP correctly identified in last year’s survey to be the digitization on consumerism.

But this is not just an American issue because there are people in every corner of the world who can’t afford, access or trust medicines where they live. Now is the time for all stakeholders to find common ground and develop fully informed, generally acceptable procedures for what the survey clearly recognizes cannot be reversed.

Be part of the dialogue and solution and attend IGF 2021 WS #268 Right to safe medicines: Managing competing interests online on December 9, 2021 at 14:05 UTC.

By Tim Smith, General Manager

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