In testimony today before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, Howard Beales, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, detailed the Commission's consumer protection activities relating to the online marketing of health products, and specifically prescription drugs, and explained that the Commission brings enforcement actions where an online pharmacy makes false or misleading claims about the product or service it provides. Director Beales explained that the states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can address online prescribing and dispensing of prescription drugs.
Director Beales further explained that in health care, as in many other areas, the Commission actively monitors Internet commerce and takes a lead in enforcing existing laws to ensure that advertising claims are not misleading or deceptive. Moreover, in the area of Internet commerce, the Commission has been sensitive to concerns that Internet advertising be treated the same as advertising in other media.
The testimony noted that "Operation Cure.All," an initiative begun in 1997 in response to rising concerns about the proliferation of questionable marketing claims for health products on the Internet, is an integral part of the Commission's campaign against the fraudulent marketing of health-related products on the Internet. "Operation Cure.All" is an ongoing, coordinated law enforcement and consumer/business education initiative targeting deceptive and misleading Internet promotion of products and services that promise to cure or treat serious diseases or conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. The FTC works with numerous law enforcement partners including the FDA, Health Canada, the Competition Bureau of Industry Canada, Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor of Mexico, the Secretaria de Salud of Mexico, several state attorney general offices, and several state health departments as part of this initiative.
As part of the agencies' effort to identify appropriate law enforcement targets, "Operation Cure.All" partners periodically conduct Internet surfs. To date, the FTC and its partners have conducted three international surfs, in 1997, 1998, and 2002, and a number of narrowly targeted surfs focused on specific types of diseases or products such as anthrax. Since June 1999, the FTC has filed 18 "Operation Cure.All" cases.
"Like other health care promotions on the Internet," Director Beales testified, "the availability of prescription drugs via online pharmacies can offer benefits to consumers, including convenience and value. However, significant potential for injury exists when prescriptions are issued without adequate review of the consumer's medical history or when unapproved drugs are sold to consumers over the Internet by overseas pharmacies."
Director Beales concluded his testimony by stating that the FTC will continue to do its part to combat deceptive practices by online pharmacies and to assist other authorities in their investigative work.
The Commission vote to approve Director Beales' testimony was 5-0.
(Matter No. T994507)