PharmacyChecker Blog

Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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Hitting Pause on Criticism of the FDA, Just for Today

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is just one agency out of the many that make up the United States Department of Health and Human Services and, from PharmacyChecker’s relatively small (non-regulatory) role of helping verify online pharmacies to protect public health, I’ve learned just how insanely massive its mandate is. I’ve also witnessed and participated in its criticism, and with good reason: the agency is not honest or forthcoming about personal drug importation, their regulatory process has been said to be “inherently biased” in terms of which drugs they choose to approve and their coziness with the pharmaceutical industry, among other things. Wikipedia has an extremely long page aptly called Criticism of the Food and Drug Administration, much of it having to do with its role with prescription drugs, and less so other sectors, such as food, tobacco and cosmetics.  

As my greater advocacy initiatives have worked to implore the FDA to bring more balance, commonsense and fairness to regulating and providing consumer education about personal imports of prescription drugs, I’ve realized that I should practice the same in how I talk about the FDA. So, without further ado, a moment of praise amongst the criticism:

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Lower-Cost Imported Drugs Can Save Lives

Millions of people are dying because they are not getting the healthcare they need and that includes prescription drugs. New research has made a slam dunk case for why international online pharmacy options are needed urgently. We can’t allow drug companies to continue fooling the public about drug importation. 

A Gallup Poll survey announced yesterday found that 34 million Americans know someone who died because they could not afford medical treatments. That doesn’t mean prescription drug affordability specifically was the cause. In fact, the Gallup Poll lacks details about what kinds of medical treatments were too expensive. However, the poll identifies that a rising percentage of Americans are reporting going without prescriptions because of cost: from 18.9% in January to 22.9% in September of 2019. That would be about 58 million Americans who say they did not fill a prescription in the past 12 months because of cost. Since pharmacies in other countries charge much lower prices, and properly credentialed international online pharmacies make those drugs available, the veracity of the title of this blog post is undeniable.

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Canadian Ambassador Says Canada’s Too Small For America’s Drug Import Program. Now What?

There are few people more supportive than I am of prescription drug importation as one policy to help Americans access lower drug prices. But, since I accuse Big Pharma types and the FDA of ignoring reality about the safety of personal drug imports from licensed pharmacies in Canada and other countries, I won’t ignore reality! Canada is concerned about momentum on drug importation coming from the Trump administration and states, particularly Florida, citing its relatively small population and limited drug supplies. The answer is not to pull back on importation, but to expand the scope of countries in the supply network. 

As reported in Reuters earlier this week, the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. stated that she is “sympathetic to U.S. concerns regarding affordable prescription drugs.” On the other hand, she said, “Not only are we too small of a market, Canada cannot increase its domestic pharmaceutical drug supply to meet U.S. demand…” It’s not incredibly cynical of me to suggest that drug company lobbyists, who work internationally, have spoken with Canadian diplomats and said, “Look, we’re not going to increase your supply of far less expensive medicine just so Florida’s state importation plan can work and Trump can get a political win.” 

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Recommended Reading: “The Toxic Nationalism of the Pharmaceutical Industry”

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

This week, I simply want to bring your attention to an article in The New Republic called “The Toxic Nationalism of the Pharmaceutical Industry.” Basically, the author Audrey Farley describes how the pharmaceutical industry has employed nationalism, racism, and prejudice in its communications and lobbying strategies that put profits over patients. To temper any hyperbolic mudslinging at the industry, overall, I note a disclaimer that most individuals working for drug companies are certainly no more biased or racist than other industries. My point is that Ms. Farley’s article just goes deeper in showing how disgusting and stupid the industry can actually be.

I’ll give two examples, the first I’ve written about before (but not as well). The Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Improvement Act of 2003 included legalizing the importation of lower-cost medicines from Canada, as long as the Secretary of Health and Human Services certified that the new imports would pose no additional safety risks and would yield substantial savings. The next year, someone from the Pharmaceutical and Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) commissioned the writing of a fictional novel in which Muslim terrorists poison the drug supply in Canada to kill Americans who were buying lower-cost medicine from Canada.

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Consumers Missing from Bloomberg’s Investigative Reporting on PhRMA and Importation

This week, journalist Ben Elgin of Bloomberg published an exceedingly thorough and investigative report about how the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), funded by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), is behind a massive campaign to defeat drug importation proposals that seek to lower drug prices. In fact, the report disclosed that PSM apparently received $7 million in 2017 to oppose importation. But the story omitted what’s arguably most important to consumers now, as I see the evidence shows: PSM’s misinformation about access to lower-cost medicines available online from foreign pharmacies. 

I’ve been writing about the Partnership for Safe Medicines since 2010. PharmacyChecker is a target of PSM’s “public education” campaigns about online pharmacies, and PSM is one of the defendants in our current antitrust lawsuit against several organizations funded by drug companies. PSM’s recent blitz against drug importation is not just about state wholesale drug importation proposals or Trump’s related initiatives: far from it. The evidence from its history shows it’s about undermining the case for personal drug importation. 

The Bloomberg report points correctly to 2003, the year that legislation passed to allow importation from Canada, but with a poison pill built in. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would have to certify that the new imports would pose no new safety risks and would achieve significant savings. It was that same year that PhRMA hired Edelman, a public relations firm, to put together focus groups to find out how to stop Americans from importing their medications for personal use, since the federal prohibitions were not a deterrent (as no one is prosecuted for such small imports). PhRMA concluded that instilling fear of counterfeit drugs among consumers was the way of the future. That year, PSM was born. 

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Helping Congress Learn More about Foreign Pharmacy Prices

A few weeks back, I wrote about the House Ways and Means Committee international drug price report, which very competently compared U.S. patented drug prices with 11 other countries. The report found that 79 drugs, ones that account for 60% of Medicare drug spending, are on average priced just under 75% lower internationally vs. the U.S. when looking at ex-factory, meaning wholesale prices.

I half-joked that the Committee was recommending looking abroad for lower drug prices. They were not focusing on drug importation. However, the Committee held a hearing yesterday in which foreign drug prices were central to the debate. The focus of the hearing was a bill, H.R. 3, Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which seeks to lower drug prices in Medicare by empowering Medicare to negotiate with drug companies prices on certain, generally very expensive drugs. There’s a backstop in the bill if the drug companies won’t negotiate in which drugs would be priced at 120% of the average price of six high-income countries. That’s called international reference pricing. The bottom line here is that Congress is now shining a bright light on how much more expensive the “same” drugs are in the U.S. vs. abroad.

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