Google stops accepting ads from unlicensed pharmacies; effort to curb illegal drug purchases

Tuesday, December 2nd 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Google Inc. stopped taking ads from unlicensed pharmacies, joining other popular Web sites that have bowed to pressure to curb the illegal distribution of prescription drugs such as the painkiller Vicodin.

The step follows similar action last month by Overture Services, which distributes ads to the Web sites operated by its parent company, Yahoo! Inc., and Microsoft's MSN. America Online began restricting ad sales to unlicensed pharmacies two years ago.

Google's ad ban doesn't affect the results that its search engine displays.

``Google supports end user choice in commerce and we will work hard to ensure there is always consumer choice and value in online pharmacies,'' the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said Monday in a statement.

The crackdown on unlicensed pharmacies comes as regulators and Congress intensify their focus on third parties _ Web sites, credit companies and shipping companies _ that make it easier for illicit operators to sell potentially dangerous drugs.

A major trade group for legitimate pharmacies and, a major online advertiser, also have been pushing for an Internet marketing ban on illegal operators.

Both Overture and Google allow advertisers to display their Web links whenever computer users search for certain words, such as Vicodin. The ads usually are highlighted near the top of Web pages to encourage visitors to click on the links.

The marketing approach has become a hit among businesses looking for new customers. But the system also has made it easier for unlicensed pharmacies to sell highly addictive painkillers and tranquilizers to consumers who don't have the proper doctor's prescription. Critics of the unlicensed pharmacies say ads are even generating sales to minors.

Google said it plans to establish a screening system to verify a pharmacy is properly licensed before selling an ad. Overture isn't accepting ads from any pharmacies until it has established a way to verify licenses, probably by next spring.

The health care industry accounts for about 5 percent of Internet advertising, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, a research firm.

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