A former consultant to PharmacyChecker.com was, unfortunately, swept up in this indictment for an action having nothing to do with his work with PharmacyChecker.com (see our posting about the indictment) [UPDATE: The charges against this individual were dismissed on October 20].
But even though PharmacyChecker, nor any of its executives or employees, are the subject of the recent indictment or even mentioned in it, ASOP and LegitScript, who we see as sharks for Big Pharma and Big Pharmacy, could not resist throwing a public relations party, which we believe is aimed at manipulating the media and reporters, government, and worse – consumers! It appears that they spent a lot of money on a PR firm, ECI Communications, to put together and disseminate lies about PharmacyChecker.com and misleading information about international online pharmacies.
Want proof? After reading ASOP and LegitScript’s deceitfully misleading news release, a writer at the publication Medicine Marketing & Media was apparently duped into writing on Wednesday that PharmacyChecker was being indicted! After we contacted that publication about the inaccuracy, we were swiftly given an apology, the article was corrected, and the following statement posted: “CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed PharmacyChecker.com as a defendant. PharmacyChecker.com is not a defendant in the case.
It’s important to keep in mind who these groups are. ASOP’s members and funders include large pharmaceutical companies and the National Association of Chain Drugstores. To protect their bottom lines, these companies and ASOP lobby congress and federal agencies, such as the FDA, to try to curtail your access to much more affordable and safe medication from outside the U.S. In fact, ASOP is actually located in the offices of the government relations and communications consulting firm FraegreBD, where ASOPs executive director, also happens to be a Vice President. And ECI Communications is a PR firm which does extensive business for U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Of course LegitScript.com happens to be a founding member of ASOP. Can we trust LegitScript.com or ASOP? Well, you already know who ASOP works for, right? On the other hand, much of LegitScript.com’s income is from a contract with the FDA for $5.2 million. That’s not bad in and of itself but, if that money is being used to spread misinformation to U.S. consumers and lobby congress and maybe even the FDA itself, then that stinks.
The truth is that American consumers are buying medication from outside the U.S., five million of them each year, because many of them can’t afford prices in the U.S. Since 2003, PharmacyChecker.com has been working hard to publish information that helps Americans find safe and affordable medication from these pharmacies. Yet it seems the only safe online pharmacy to ASOP is one that is approved by LegitScript.com, which in turn believes that every pharmacy outside the U.S. that sells into the U.S. including licensed pharmacies in Canada, are not “legitimate” or are “rogue.”
ASOP’s and LegitScript’s vision of “legitimacy” is a nightmare for Americans! Thirty-five million Americans don’t fill a script each year because of cost. A safe online pharmacy is not safe for a consumer who can’t afford the medications it sells. ASOP, LegitScript, the NABP, FDA, etc., can’t wish away the fact that safe international online pharmacies are a lifeline for many American consumers. Scaring these Americans away from safe pharmacy options with misleading and false information means that more Americans will go without their prescribed medications. There is nothing “safe” or “legit” about that.
Unfortunately, a Maine state law that was created to help people access lower cost medication from licensed pharmacies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, was invalidated yesterday in a decision by federal court Judge Nancy Torresen. Basically the judge, invoking a legal doctrine called “preemption,” concluded that federal law beats state law when it comes to foreign commerce, and since federal law technically bans personal drug importation under most circumstances, Maine’s law is trumped. I’ll return at the end to deal with a little legalese fun (but not too much!).
Taking a walk down memory lane here: personal drug importation programs in Maine, such as one operated for the City of Portland, Portland Meds since 2004, which has helped Americans save many millions of dollars, were shut down in 2012 by former State Attorney General William Schneider. The programs were shut down because Maine’s pharmacy groups persuaded AG Schneider that Canadian and all foreign pharmacies should be stopped from mail order pharmacy sales into Maine because they are not licensed in Maine. Most U.S. states require pharmacies based elsewhere to obtain an out-of-state pharmacy license if they want to sell medication by mail to their residents. While there are exceptions, most states do not allow pharmacies in other countries to obtain an out-of-state license.
Programs like Portland Meds will not necessarily shutdown. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. But if they do shutdown then thousands of Mainers will be paying more for their medications. More seriously, some Mainers will likely end up skipping their medications because the prices at their local pharmacies are too high for them. Back in 2012, an owner of one company that worked with CanaRx, a Canadian pharmacy benefit company, admitted that by working with licensed foreign pharmacies his company saved money: but there was more to the story than simply a company saving money. Quoting a journalist from the Bangor Daily News:
While acknowledging that Hardwood Products “as a company is trying to save money,” Young said his greatest fear is that a spike in costs will spur his employees to stop taking medications for conditions such as diabetes and asthma.
“We have many people here who are hourly employees,” he said. “We pay a fair wage, but the impact out of the family net income will be significant. More important than the money is the health and well being of the employees and their families. What dollar figure do you put on that?”
…but all hope is not even close to lost! Americans still have access to safe and more affordable medication available online, and, again, Maine’s programs have not yet shut down. Equally as important to the longer term cause of prescription justice, the ruling leaves the door open for the State of Maine to appeal the decision up the legal food chain to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. If Maine wins then other states may follow its lead by passing similar legislation to promote access to lower costs medications from other countries.
I’m pretty certain that, with the requisite political will from Maine’s legislators, citizen rabblerousing, and some good legal marksmanship, there are ways to overcome and defeat Judge Torresen’s ruling.
To conclude, I’d like to challenge something Judge Torresen opined in her ruling to nullify Maine’s foreign pharmacy law:
“Congress enacted the FDCA [Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act] to bolster consumer protection against harmful products.”…In furtherance of this purpose, Congress has created a complex regulatory scheme covering the importation of pharmaceuticals into the United States…
Is that so? Maybe…in part. However, I believe that banning Americans from importing lower cost and safe prescription medication from licensed pharmacies for their own use does nothing to bolster consumer protection against harmful products but quite a lot to bolster protection of big drug company and U.S. chain pharmacy profits. I know that the ban impedes Americans from taking medications they need and forces more financial hardship. Are these facts that could hold up in court? I think so.
He was once a favorite of the pharmaceutical industry. In a 2004 National Review article called “What Patent Problem?” Dr. Bate enraged the progressive, health activist community for arguing that patents are not obstacles to needed medication in poor countries because 95% of World Health Organization Essential Medicines are already off patent. Arguments like those were welcomed by industry, but things have changed. His recent research showing that personal drug importation (which undermines pharmaceutical profits) through online pharmacies can be safe has made him persona non grata in some pharma circles, despite his other positions which support pharma. Unfortunately, it seems the health activist community is also hesitant to embrace Dr. Bate’s current work on personal drug importation, perhaps because they don’t want to lend credence to his past research.
We think it’s time that everyone, including the FDA, listens carefully to what Dr. Bate is saying about personal drug importation. After extensive mystery shopping and testing of products, Dr. Bate came to a very simple conclusion: As long as people purchased medication from websites (foreign or domestic) approved by PharmacyChecker.com or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, they were generally safe doing so. His data also showed that Americans could save a lot of money (an average of 52%) on brand name medicines from legitimate pharmacies outside the U.S. He believes this option, to be fair, should exist mainly for lower income individuals rather than people able to afford U.S. prices.
Dr. Bate’s conclusions about online pharmacy are an inconvenient truth for the pharmaceutical industry and U.S. pharmacies – which include some of the funders of his employer, the American Enterprise Institute. These industries lobby the government to prevent Americans from accessing drugs online at lower cost from foreign pharmacies. Their strategy has been to ignore Dr. Bate’s findings on Internet pharmacies. The FDA seems to be playing the same game by scaring the public away from personal drug importation through public information campaigns, such as Be Safe Rx.
We know that Dr. Bate’s work on online pharmacies is guided by hard data, objective analysis, and his free market sensibilities. We do not agree with his positions on all subjects, but his studies on drug safety demand respect from all sides and could help policy-makers reach the right conclusions for the public good.