It’s no secret Americans are struggling to afford their medications. A quick skim of crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe.com and Fundly.com, sets the grim scene of rising prescription drug costs in the United States. As a result, many Americans are ordering from online pharmacies located in other countries that offer the price relief folks can rarely swing here at home without the aid of insurance or strategic use of discount coupons.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Campaign for Personal Prescription Importation shows that cost is the top reason more and more Americans are ordering their prescriptions from online pharmacies in Canada. 94% of Americans cite high drug prices in the U.S. as reason for ordering from abroad.
More than half of the survey respondents report saving up to $199 monthly by ordering through an international online pharmacy. Many that save more than $300 per month report an average savings of $910.
Despite having Medicare or other insurance coverage, many Americans are still put in the financial position of seeking out safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada. More than half that shop drug prices online report having Medicare.
But what about patient safety when ordering medication online?
The truth is that, despite fearmongering by pharmaceutical companies that report otherwise, prescription importation has given millions of Americans access to safe and affordable medications through licensed and legitimate online pharmacies. In fact, 97% of survey respondents said they would recommend ordering prescription drugs from an online pharmacy in Canada to family and friends. More than half know someone who has ordered their medications from Canada.
Today, Tod Cooperman, MD, CEO and founder of PharmacyChecker
and I sent the letter below to the Partnership for Safe Medicines (safemedicines.org)
(PSM) asking them to correct information on their website that we believe is
defamatory against PharmacyChecker. For years, the group was run by a vice
president of Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America and continues
we believe is a smear campaign against PharmacyChecker – one funded
by drug companies.
It’s not that they shouldn’t oppose drug importation as a
means to lower drug prices: while I disagree with them, that’s fair game. What
is not fair is publishing and making misleading, sometimes utterly false,
statements that prompt people to avoid safe international online pharmacies
that sell medicine they can actually afford. We’re tired of it.
Upon PSM correcting the information on their website, this
blog post will be updated accordingly.
January 4, 2019
Mr. Shabbir J. Safdar Executive Director Partnership for Safe Medicines 315 Montgomery St, Suite 900 San Francisco, CA 94104
Re: Defamatory Misstatements about
PharmacyChecker.com LLC published by
Partnership for Safe Medicines (SafeMedicines.org) (“PSM”)
We write to strongly urge that you correct, revise, or remove content that you recently published on your website (https://www.safemedicines.org/2018/11/drug-importation-is-a-bad-idea.html) that is rife with inaccurate, misleading, and defamatory assertions about our company, PharmacyChecker.com. This has been a modus operandi of your drug company-funded organization for many years, as exposed by independent reporting [See: https://khn.org/news/non-profit-linked-to-phrma-rolls-out-campaign-to-block-drug-imports/].
appears to us to be part of the Partnership for Safe Medicine’s smear campaign
to frighten the U.S. public from purchasing prescription medication at lower
prices from safe international online pharmacies. We understand that your campaign
includes massive lobbying and public relations efforts against drug importation
legislation, which, if enacted, would help lower drug prices.
Among your offending statements are the following:
Each week I try and share something with our blog readers to
shed further light on issues relating to online pharmacies, drug prices, drug
importation and safety. Most of these efforts are dedicated toward advocating
for Americans who can’t afford medications – and hammering home the truth that
safe international online pharmacies are a lifeline of lower drug prices. These
are policy, consumer and healthcare issues, but also political issues. I’ve
come to know that Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, and
Democratic Socialists all agree that drug prices are out of control and the
pharmaceutical industry has too much power.
International online pharmacies process orders for prescription drugs that are mailed across borders. That’s a simple definition for myriad websites, good, bad and in between, that can be found selling medicine on the Internet. Patients looking online for affordable medicine from another country want to know they will receive a lawfully-manufactured medicine that works. At PharmacyChecker, we believe we’ve developed a system of standards, rules and policies, for evaluating such websites to determine if they are safe and the businesses involved properly licensed. Those online pharmacies that are not only eligible but also willing to accept our monitoring and oversight are verified in our Verification Program. Verified means that an online pharmacy meets our online pharmacy standards of practice and agrees to our monitoring and oversight protocols. PharmacyChecker-verified online pharmacies are eligible to publish a PharmacyChecker seal on their websites and list their pharmacy information and prices on our website.
As announced on the Prescription Justice Blog, a person recently exercised their right to defend a prescription drug import that the FDA had detained and she won the case. The drug, Arthrotec, is available for sale at U.S. pharmacies. However, according to the patient, the drug was not affordable here in the U.S. This example shows the FDA exercising its enforcement discretion to permit medicine imports where the patient cited lower costs as the reason for the importation.
If personal drug importation is illegal under most circumstances, then what is behind this“right” to argue with the FDA?
It’s pretty straightforward:
U.S. law that affects personal prescription drug importation explicitly prevents the FDA from destroying a patient’s prescription drug import without “due process” to defend that order. That comes from Section 708of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012. The purpose of that law was to make it easier, ironically, for the FDA to refuse and destroy imported medicines for personal use. That can be helpful if the drugs are counterfeit or adulterated, but harmful if they are from licensed pharmacies and the patient importing them can’t afford them here—such as the case noted here.
People buying medications to fill prescriptions in Canada or other countries because prices are too high domestically don’t get prosecuted for it. But people who import drugs illegally and resell them—especially controlled drugs, like prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines— get busted and go to jail for a pretty long time. Even seemingly small-time drug dealers.
As reported in Madawaska, Maine’s local news WABI5, Tristan Nelson was sentenced to a year and a half behind bars for illegally importing 950 pills of Ritalin (an amphetamine) and 450 pills of Xanax (a benzodiazepine) from the Philippines with intent to sell.
Of note is that neither of the medications was a prescription opioid, which is the highest enforcement priority of the U.S. FDA. Addiction to non-opioid controlled drugs, however, is also a public health problem, and clearly law enforcement takes illegal imports of them seriously.
The short story reported in WABI5 simply noted: “Nelson admitted to investigators he ordered the pills and planned to sell them.” It did not say how he ordered them, such as from a rogue online pharmacy, but perhaps I’ll find his court documents later this month to find out more.
FDA enforcement actions leading to prosecution, fines and/or jail for illegal drug importation focus on illegal wholesale importation of all prescription drugs, whether controlled or non-controlled prescription drugs. While it prioritizes counterfeit drugs, the illegal imports can be lawfully-manufactured, safe and effective. Recently, its focus is on stopping imports of fentanyl, mostly its ingredients. Part of that battle is stopping Internet activity that leads to the illegal fentanyl trade. Such ingredients, ordered online and then imported, are used to make fake opioid prescription drugs, which have exacerbated our nation’s crisis with drug addiction and overdose.