Facebook next battlefield in fight against counterfeit medicines?09-Sep-2011
Further evidence that medicine counterfeiters are switching from spam email to social media to peddle their wares comes from a new research paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research here.
Researchers from California Western School of Law in the USA examined the use of social media platforms such as Facebook in the context of direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA), and found that illicit online drug sellers are also making use of these channels to target unwary consumers.
The researchers surveyed the online presence of the top 10pharma companies and branded medicines based on IMS health figures, and concluded that in some cases social media platforms were being used in a way that "may circumvent DTCA legal proscriptions."
DTC advertising is legal only in the USA and New Zealand among industrialised nations, and has been linked to "inappropriate medication use, overutilization, and increased spending on expensive branded drugs," according to authors Bryan Liang and Timothy Mackey.
Moreover, the study claims that rogue online pharmacies are "entrenched" within DTCA on social media sites, posing a public health risk as patients may buy counterfeit, diverted and unregulated drugs.
Illicit drug sellers have already swapped from sponsored search listings to entries appearing on shopping pages on search engines, with actions taken to block them from these channels. Now, they appear to be targeting Facebook and other social media sites with "hundreds of millions of users worldwide."
Liang and Mackey recommend that social media companies adopt a policy of strict self-regulation to prevent misuse of their platforms, including filtering and blocking the display of Internet pharmacy advertising, as well as blocking DTCA content in countries where this form of advertising is prohibited.
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