The prescription narcotic epidemic in America is banging on our national consciousness, almost as loudly as the issue of skyrocketing drug prices. The pharmaceutical industry and its front groups have tried in the past to conflate safe international online pharmacies with the illegal and dangerous online sale of controlled drugs, including prescription narcotics, and I’ve called them out over the years. Safe international online pharmacies do not sell prescription narcotics at all. But, unlike safe international online pharmacies, which sell non controlled medications at much lower prices, is Big Pharma pushing narcotics and fueling drug addiction in America? Apparently, yes.
As reported in The Fix, a documentary film called “Prescription Thugs” explores the connection between the pharmaceutical industry, the power it wields in Congress, and the painkiller addiction epidemic. It is the story of people who were introduced to painkillers when their doctors prescribed them, only to find themselves addicted. For years, the industry was making a certain formulation of the popular prescription opiate OxyContin that was easily abused by addicts and therefore driving astronomical sales. When a new form of the drug made it harder to crush and therefore inject intravenously, its sales tanked by 80%. You can view the film’s trailer at http://www.prescriptionthugs.com/.
I’ll keep it real brief today. So far this year, most reviews on our Part D ratings site – MedicareDrugPlans.com – are written by frustrated and angry American seniors who have discovered they will be paying much more money for prescription drugs in 2016. I, happily, concede that there are millions of satisfied seniors who are going about their year with good Part D coverage. For instance, so far my mom is happy (but I helped her pick her plan). Let’s face it: millions of others are not happy and they are rightfully venting. Let us know about your experiences with Medicare Part D this year, by rating and reviewing your plans. Note: We want to hear good reviews (we know some of you are happy with your plans) to help people find the best plans!
For an overview of the venting, check out the reviews below.
Plan: Cigna-HealthSpring Rx Secure – California
Review: This plan was $39 in 2015…increased to $77…I received no notification of the increase, and did not realize it had changed until I received my Jan credit card statement by then it was too late to make a change….I would absolutely not choose this company in the future. Major rip off for senior citizens!
Multiple Medicare Part D Mayhem
Plan: Humana Walmart Rx Plan – South Carolina
Review: Explanations of coverage terrible. They challenged our first two prescriptions although we had been taking them already. Looks like they almost automatically reject prescriptions and force you to get exceptions — wear you down. So far it’s everything bad you’ve heard about insurance companies. And the Wal-Mart guy (pharmacist)? I asked one question: ‘Which of these are tier one and two”. His ‘helpful” response. “I haven’t the faintest idea”
Drug Cost Smack
Plan: Blue MedicareRx Value Plus
Review: i enrolled and used plan for 4 months and then they bumped the cost of an in-office infusion therapy from $40 dollars per treatment, (every 8 weeks), to $862!!!!!!! No notification. Dropped them like a rock and off to MEDEX with separate plan for prescriptions.
Unfortunately, public scrutiny about high drug prices doesn’t usually lead to legislative fixes, such as passing legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and expand the practice of safe personal drug importation so more consumers access lower prices from foreign pharmacies. On the other hand, a New York Times article – “Even Talking About Reducing Drug Prices Can Reduce Drug Prices” – suggests, well, that “talking about” drug prices can reduce them, because pharma executives get scared that if they don’t moderate drug prices, more permanent and progressive fixes will finally happen.
In the article “I.P.F., Not Aging, Could Be Causing Breathlessness” in the New York Times this week, columnist Jane Brody explains that the drug Esbriet (pirfenidone) can “slow the loss of lung function and significantly reduce deaths” from an incurable lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or I.P.F.
The article notes that Esbriet was approved in the U.S. in 2014 and now 14,000 people have begun treatment, which costs $94,000 per year. The article also notes that the drug has been available for several years in other parts of the world (including Japan, India, Europe and Canada).
What the article does not mention is that this incredible drug can be purchased at just a fraction of the cost through many online pharmacies which dispense it from licensed pharmacies outside the U.S – where the cost is only about $2,000 per year, rather than $94,000 per year.
The standard dose of Esbriet is 801 mg per day – 3 capsules, each containing 267 mg of pirfenidone, according to the NIH website DailyMed. Outside the U.S., pirfenidone is sold as 200 mg capsules (so 4 capsules would provide a similar dose – 800 mg). In the U.S., the price of each 267 mg capsule (without any discount) comes out to about $85, while a 200 mg capsule from outside the U.S. costs about $1.50 (prices listed at http://www.pharmacychecker.com/generic/price-comparison/pirfenidone/200+mg/)
Why must Americans (and our government programs) pay 40 to 50 times more than to get this drug in the U.S. than from elsewhere?
I like showing Americans who are searching online for affordable medication, often from foreign pharmacies, that their mom and pop pharmacy on Main Street U.S.A. can actually offer a better deal. It’s actually pretty common. The generic version of Valium, diazepam, which treats anxiety, is a perfect example. Bottom line: no need to buy online or from Canada to save money.
As we move out of 2015 and into 2016 with a strong wave of hostility rising throughout the country about high drug prices, what I’m about to report may seem incongruous. Fewer Americans seem to be buying lower cost medications from other countries. For the past few years, largely based on data from the CDC in 2013, I’ve published the number five million as the approximate number of Americans who, due to high drug prices, import medication annually for personal use. But a newer CDC report published in 2015 (that I recently came across) puts that number closer to four million, a 20% decrease.
If drug prices are going up, and Americans are fed up with prescription costs, wouldn’t you expect more people to be buying lower cost medications from outside the country? With fewer Americans buying medication internationally, potentially one million, how many of them are simply not taking prescribed medication? Are our most trusted authorities scaring Americans away from obtaining lower cost medications from other countries, or has affordable access improved over the past few years?
2015 is drawing to a close, a year that the Chicago Tribune is calling “the year of drug price outrage.” Right now many American consumers are struggling to pay for their medication and not feeling a lot of holiday cheer.
We mentioned last week, some pharmacies are actually giving away select medications for free. Publix is one place where you can get medications such as Amlodipine, Lisinopril and Metformin for free. Unfortunately, Publix stores are located only in the Southeast United States. What if you live in some other state? Last week we said we’d come back to you with more reporting on this free medicine business in 2016 – but we couldn’t wait to start.
If you live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia or Maryland, you might live near a Giant Eagle Supermarket. Giant Eagle offers free antibiotics such as Amoxicillin, Cephalexin and Ciprofloxacin. You just need to sign up for their “Giant Eagle Advantage” discount card.
Folks in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky who shop at Meijer Stores can get the diabetes drug Metformin, the cholesterol medication Atorvastatin, pre-natal vitamins or a 14-day supply of antibiotic free.
As for the Northeast, ShopRite Markets in New York and New Jersey has a free 30-day supply of diabetes medication. And my mom’s favorite supermarket, Price Chopper (found in Upstate New York and New England) is another chain whose pharmacies offer free antibiotics and free diabetes medications (Glimepiride, Glipizide and Metformin).
Pharmacists at these stores don’t wear red suits and hand out presents, and yes, these programs exist to bring in customers who will fill other prescriptions and spend money on impulse items, like holiday candy and last-minute gifts. But hey, I’d like to think these companies genuinely care about their customers’ well-being and that they believe it’s important to give as well as receive. So Merry Christmas from PharmacyChecker!
I’m talking about super-sized supermarket Publix, which operates over 1000 stores throughout the Southeastern U.S. Sure, it’s not the only superstore to offer this but I happened to come across its Free Medication Program while researching drug prices today: and I want to talk about it.
There’s a lot of yelling and screaming and downright hostility toward the pharmaceutical industry (much of it warranted), including against generic drug companies, who are under scrutiny because some old generics have increased in price by thousands of percent. So here’s a little relief…free medication.
The list is not long but the following drugs are free at Publix pharmacies: Amlodipine, Lisinopril, and Metformin. Bring your script and walk out with a 90 day supply free. If you’re prescribed a 14-day antibiotic treatment of Amoxicillin, Ampicillin, Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim, Ciprofloxacin (but not its XR version) and Penicillin VK – free at Public Pharmacies.
Now most of us don’t live near a Publix. Very low cost and free drug programs at U.S. retailers and chain pharmacies were launched almost a decade ago when Walmart announced its $4 prescription drug programs. The programs are still around and a report is long overdue about them. I promise to bring you a broader list of these free medication programs in the New Year.
Why would a pharmacy offer medications for free? If you’re looking for a full explanation, here’s some good journalism in Toledo’s The Blaze from 2006. It has something to do with the medication being a “loss leader” for the company. Then again, who cares – the meds are free.
According to the CDC, 50-70 million Americans report having trouble with sleep. Sixty million prescriptions were written in 2011 to help them, according to IMS Health. About 60% of those products contained the active ingredient of Ambien, called Zolpidem, which is also the generic name for this very popular sleep drug. Are you an American looking to buy Ambien or Zolpidem? Well, don’t purchase this medication online from a Canadian pharmacy or anywhere else overseas. I’m going to explain why with a real-life story.
Sleeping Woman by Gyula Derkovits [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A friend of mine, let’s call her Bertha, who is on Medicare Part D, is prescribed and takes Zolpidem. For most of the year, she only had to make a co-payment of about $3 at her local pharmacy. Then, a couple of months ago, the same pharmacy told Bertha that the price jumped to $46 for a one-month supply because her Part D plan had annual quantity restrictions for that medication.
So Bertha went to PharmacyChecker.com, typed in Zolpidem, then clicked 5mg, and read the following:
Why not? Because Ambien (Zolpidem) is a controlled medication, meaning one subject to abuse, and we don’t allow online pharmacies that sell controlled medication internationally in our Verification Program. Rogue online pharmacies, domestic or foreign, might offer to sell you this medication without a prescription but don’t buy it: you’re risking your health by doing so. Even if they sell you the real thing, we strongly recommend not using controlled drugs without a prescription on or offline. The good news for Americans is that, if they shop around, the generic version of Ambien can be very affordable at the corner pharmacy. Prescription discount coupons often make them even more affordable. A new feature on PharmacyChecker.com (that is still being tested so be patient) can help…and so our story continues.
Under the notification “Online pharmacies in our program do not offer Zolpidem”, Bertha read the following
“But if you’re in the U.S., you can compare drug prices at your local pharmacies using a prescription discount card or coupon.”
She then clicked the “Search U.S. Local Pharmacy” button (see example below)–
–typed in her zip code and compared neighborhood pharmacy prices that are only available using a prescription discount coupon. She discovered that the cash price with the coupon was only about $10 – much better than the $46 she would have had to pay without insurance. She went to her local pharmacy and filled the script with no problems.
Like most Americans, Bertha has health insurance and a prescription drug plan. Unfortunately, tens of millions still do not. For them, if they get a script for Ambien, the savings can be even more dramatic with a prescription coupon or discount card. For example, I found at least one pharmacy charging $159 for a one-month supply of Zolpidem 5mg! Against that price, finding it for ten bucks with a coupon is a savings of $149/month or 94%!
If you’re still awake after reading this, I’m going to throw you a curve ball: there is a lot of controversy about prescription sleep medication, including Ambien, related to overprescribing, side effects, and questionable benefits. I found a good article about it in the New York Times and I recommend it. But if you get that prescription from your healthcare provider for Ambien, and are ready to fill it: go local, not international and check local pharmacy prices on PharmacyChecker.com.
When you think about skincare products, you might not consider them the most crucial medications. But while some skincare medications are more cosmetic, many also treat conditions that are painful, unpleasant, or can have serious consequences. Unfortunately, prices for this class of medications have been rising rapidly, outpacing inflation and salaries, at a time when many Americans are facing out-of-pocket medication costs.
According to a new study by the American Medical Association’s JAMA Dermatology, between 2009 and 2015 many widely prescribed medications in this class increased in price by 200% or more. In fact, two of the drugs in this study, Targetin gel and Carac Cream, increased by nearly 1,700%! Even those medications with less spectacular increases such as Solaraze gel, Clobex Spray and Benzaclin increased between 146% and 325% during the same period.
Benzaclin, which is widely considered one of the best acne treatments, costs on average $503.85 at local U.S. pharmacies according to the JAMA study. But that same medication can be purchased from a verified international online pharmacy for $71.76, a savings of 86%. A 4.25 oz bottle of Clobex Spray, which treats a form of severe psoriasis, was found to retail for an average of $958.01. At an online pharmacy you could find the same amount of that medication for $293.07, a 69% savings. And while the same study found Solaraze gel, which is used to treat actinic keratosis, a type of precancerous skin growth would costs $1,883.98 for those forced to pay out of pocket, that same medication could be purchased online for $170, or 91% less!
||Price Rise 2005-2009
|| $ 170.00
|| $ 293.07
|| $ 664.94
|*Based on purchase of 177mL (6 oz.) bottle of Clobex spray for $414.99 at an online pharmacy.
Whether treating acne, psoriasis or lesions, taking care of the largest and most visible organ in the human body should leave you comfortable in your skin, not feeling skinned alive.