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Web ads monitored for false anthrax drug claims

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. agencies and pharmacists are monitoring Internet advertisements for anthrax treatment products to ensure firms are not capitalizing on bioterror fears with misleading or illegal offers. Some Web sites are offering Cipro, the main antibiotic used to treat the anthrax bacteria, without a prescription, urging people to order the drug soon to protect their families. Others say they have certified physicians who can legally prescribe the drug. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy said it is tracking sites promoting Cipro and reporting suspicious ones to state authorities or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Most of the ads we've seen, we feel are illegal," said Carmen Catizone, the pharmacy group's executive director. "They are offering medication without a valid prescription. ... We believe they are just capitalizing on all of the anthrax and bioterrorism fears."

Anxiety has risen amid more anthrax exposures from letters sent through the mail in the United States. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said 31 congressional employees, most of them from his office, tested positive for anthrax exposure.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which prosecuted people offering fake Viagra anti-impotence drugs on the Web, said the agency was working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor ads for anthrax treatments.

"We are concerned about the marketing of products for anthrax on the Internet; and in conjunction with the FDA, we are monitoring it right now to determine what action, if any, would be appropriate," FTC Senior Attorney Rich Cleland said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in letter Wednesday to the FTC and U.S. Customs Service to immediately shut down Web sites marketing suspected counterfeit Cipro and to make appropriate referrals for prosecution within a month.

Buying drugs over the Internet could be risky because products could be counterfeit or unsafe, doctors and pharmacists warned.

"If terrorists strike with an epidemic-size attack, nobody wants to be left without medication," warned one Web site which offers Cipro among other anti-anthrax antibiotics, gas masks and a product to protect against nuclear radiation.

Officials said there were online pharmacies that were legitimate. The pharmacy board certifies sites that offer valid prescriptions and allows them to carry its seal of approval.

Tania Malik, chief executive for Virtual Medical Group, which provides licensed pharmacists and physicians to CiproPharmacy.com and other Web sites, said her company was offering legitimate prescriptions over the Internet in response to heavy consumer demand.

Before the spate of anthrax cases appeared in the United States, the company sold between six and 60 Cipro prescriptions per month. Now, it sells about 100 a day.

"We are not preying on their fears; we are satisfying their concerns," she said.


unknown, USA Today. October 18, 2001

Copyright © 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.. All rights reserved.