UPS has agreed to pay $40 million to avoid prosecution for shipping drugs from illegitimate online pharmacies, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced Friday.
The Atlanta-based global express delivery company has fully cooperated with the investigation and will implement a compliance program to prevent illegal online pharmacies from using its services.
The government has turned up enforcement on Internet pharmacies because of the health consequences of taking drugs without proper medical supervision and to reduce the availability of drugs to teenagers, addicts and others as prescription drug abuse proliferates. Earlier in the week, nine defendants were sentenced for their roles in illegally distributing controlled substances to customers over the Internet, according to the Justice Department.
“We are pleased with the steps UPS has taken to stop the use of its shipping services by illegal on-line pharmacies," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, said in a statement. "Good corporate citizens like UPS play an important role in halting the flow of illegal drugs that degrade our nation’s communities. We are hopeful that the leadership displayed by UPS through this compliance program will set the standard for the parcel delivery industry and will materially assist the federal government in its battle against illegal Internet pharmacies.”
From 2003 through 2010, UPS failed to implement procedures to close the shipping accounts of Internet pharmacies despite being put on notice by federal and state regulators and warned by several employees that controlled substances and prescription drugs were being sold without valid prescriptions, DEA said. Many online pharmacies fill prescriptions when a customer complete's an online questionnaire instead of in response to a prescription from a licensed physician.
The UPS tariff states that it will not provide shipping service for any items prohibited under the law. In 2004 and 2005 UPS's corporate security manager testified before Congress that UPS was making every effort to deny fraudulent online pharmacies access to its distribution network, according to a detailed fact sheet about the case
. About the same time, however, UPS's sales team identified Internet pharmacies as an area for new revenue because of their high volume of parcel shipments.
Internal company communications showed UPS managers were aware of the government's crackdown on illegal pharmacies and training documents prepared for sales personnel identified suspicious pharmacies as ones in which there was no true doctor-patient relationship and only required phone or online consultation with a doctor, the sole means of communication with a consumer was by e-mail, the site did not provide toll-free numbers, and the customer couldn't contact the pharmacist with questions.
UPS marketers skirted the subject by telling staff they could not offer discount pricing to win the business of online pharmacies, but accounts that paid the full retail rate would be accepted, according to the fact sheet.
“The results of this investigation will prompt a significant transformation of illicit internet pharmacy shipping and distribution practices, limiting the chances of potentially unapproved, counterfeit or otherwise unsafe prescription medications from reaching U.S. consumers. The FDA is hopeful that the positive actions taken by UPS in this case will send a message to other shipping firms to put public health and safety above profits,” John Roth, director of of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, said.
The UPS compliance program details processes established by the courier for detecting fraudulent distributors of prescription materials
, reporting them to law enforcement and closing down their accounts.
The "non-prosecution" agreement between UPS and the Department of Justice
is for two years, during which time UPS could be subject to prosecution if it knowingly engages in any criminal conduct related to Internet pharmacies or the government determines it received misleading information at any time. - Eric Kulisch