Defending consumer rights to affordable medication on the Internet (left to right: Gabriel Levitt, Jeremy Malcom, Andrew Goldman, Burcu Kilic, Paul Zickler)
Access to medicines and Internet rights advocates came together yesterday for a panel at the RightsCon conference in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss the importance of, and threats to, online access to safe and affordable medication. In my capacities as president of PharmacyChecker.com and founder of Prescription Justice, I submitted the concept for this panel to RightsCon, a conference that focuses on issues relating to human rights and the Internet, such as freedom of expression, curbing violent extremism, and privacy and data protection.
The panel included Jeremy Malcolm, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Andrew Goldman, Knowledge Ecology International; Burcu Kilic, Public Citizen; Paul Zickler, Canadian International Pharmacy Association, and Gabriel Levitt. We came together to push back against the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to control what is and is not permissible on the Internet when it comes to medication sales and the importation of prescription drugs for personal use.
My presentation’s focus was on the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to afford medication and how the Internet provides them with access to lower cost medication imported for personal use. I will follow-up with a more detailed report on the panel discussions and a workshop that followed, where we drafted a Statement of Principles for the online sale of medication, one inspired by the belief that access to affordable medications is an essential component to the fundamental human right to health.
Yes. Last week, the four most recent commissioners of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent an open letter to Congress declaring that an importation bill, The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Bob Casey, if passed, would jeopardize consumer safety. The bill, as described here, provides for an extensive oversight role for the FDA to help individuals and pharmacies import lower cost medications from Canada.
Don’t get me wrong: the former FDA leaders make pertinent points about regulatory issues implicated in reforming our importation laws, which should be noted – and then used to implement new regulations to expand importation from Canada – not used to pretend safe importation is impossible.
Thankfully, when the Washington Post covered this last week, they included something I said to the reporter: “The Internet has been a lifeline of affordable medicines, imported for personal use by using safe international online pharmacies that require valid prescriptions…” And if I had more to say… (more…)
PharmacyChecker.com-Approved Online Pharmacies will require your valid prescription.
One of the hallmarks of a safe international online pharmacy – or a domestic-only online pharmacy – is the requirement of a valid prescription, one that a customer obtains locally from his or her doctor or other licensed practitioner during an in-person medical consultation. Whereas rogue online pharmacies, domestic and international, sell prescription drugs without requiring a prescription or they offer a bogus remote medication consultation with an anonymous doctor. Most people looking to buy medications online are seeking lower prices; others do it because they can’t afford to see a provider or their providers won’t write the prescription they want.
A recent survey found that 76% of people who imported a drug for personal use that was ordered online had a prescription for the medication. Lower drug prices on a website that doesn’t require a prescription may be a prescription for disaster, as I’ll explain below. But for people who are ordering online with a prescription, the international savings can be a lifeline because medication costs so much less outside the U.S.
The survey on drug prices and importation was conducted by Zogby Analytics, commissioned by Prescription Justice and has a margin of error of +/-3.1%. Extrapolating the percentages to the general adult population we find 27 million Americans say that they have ordered medication online, imported for personal use; 20.5 million had a prescription; 6.5 million did not have a prescription. The number 20.5 million is surprisingly close to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey that showed about 19 million Americans say they import medication for personal use because of cost. (more…)
The executive director of Prescription Justice, Jodi Dart, published an op-ed in Morning Consult earlier this week called The Rx Rip-Off. The piece does contain Ms. Dart’s opinions but there are also some facts reported, ones based on a Zogby poll on drug prices commissioned by Prescription Justice. The poll shows that 90% of Americans are united on the need for the government to take action to make medication more affordable! As an incredible coincidence, President Trump tweeted just hours after the op-ed was published that “Pricing for the American people will come way down!”
There’s a lot in this poll that I look forward to writing about but let’s consider some of the broad findings of the poll:
75.5% of Americans agree with President Trump that the “drug companies are getting away with murder:
29.6% of Americans say they have not filled a prescription because of cost.
4.2% say they currently get prescription medication from a Canadian or other international online pharmacy.
77% of respondents who had an opinion on the issue of importation laws (522 out of 674) supported reforms so that consumers could lawfully purchase medicines from Canada or other countries.
Only 15% of respondents were actually against legalizing personal drug importation (23% of those who had an opinion).
Yesterday, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate called the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, which, if passed, would legalize the importation of lower cost medications from Canada, by wholesalers for re-sale and individuals for personal use. I support this bill as a great step in the right direction to reign in drug prices. The bill’s sponsors, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bob Casey (D-PA) are to be commended. Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) introduced a companion bill in the House. You can watch the press conference announcing the new importation legislation above.
If passed, the new bill directs the FDA to finally help Americans do what they do already, but they would have new FDA assurances, which is purchase lower cost medication from safe international online pharmacies. It also would allow wholesalers in the U.S. to buy medications at lower cost from FDA-registered Canadian wholesalers, so that U.S. retail pharmacies can charge lower prices, too, which will mean fewer international, online retail sales.
For the last 15 years, we’ve been verifying international online pharmacies, ones that extend beyond Canada, and comparing their prices. Empirical and peer-reviewed literature studying online pharmacies demonstrates the significant savings consumers find through safe importation. We know for a fact this works. (more…)
Since Americans started importing medications for personal use in larger numbers at the beginning of the last decade, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Big Pharma, has engaged in media and government relations scare tactics to try and stop them. Apparently, when it comes to foreign versions of the new FDA-Approved Emflaza, which treats Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, one board member of PhRMA supports importation!
Last week, I wrote about the decision of drug company Marathon Pharmaceuticals to postpone selling Emflaza over pricing concerns and how the issue shines a bright light on the benefits of personal drug importation. To summarize: some folks are outraged because Emflaza (deflazacort) was launched at a price of $89,000 for a one year supply. This seems insane when foreign versions of deflazacort, which cost 1% that amount (less than $1000), are already imported for personal use.
PhRMA is trying to distance itself from Marathon, just like it did with Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turning Pharmaceuticals, when the price of Daraprim jumped from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight. The CEO of Marathon, Jeff Aronin, however, sits on PhRMA’s Board of Directors! Last week, John Carroll of Endpoints News predicted last week that Aronin might be dropped. As of today, he’s still there.
Mr. Aronin wrote a letter to the Duchenne community that fully acknowledged American kids were already being treated with an unapproved foreign version of deflazacort. In his words: “As we all know, deflazacort was being used without FDA approval — and without ever having been approved anywhere in the world for Duchenne — by a very small group of patients (roughly 7 to 9 percent) in the Duchenne community who imported it from overseas.”
But does he support it? I mean, after all, the “score” for Marathon is that once it’s available for sale in the U.S., it will be purchased here. At least for the time being, this PhRMA board member does support it and seems to have no concern whatsoever whether the foreign version is safe and effective, not should he, since, like other medications, it was approved for safety and efficacy elsewhere. In noting that Marathon will “pause our commercialization” of Emflaza,” maintain its Expanded Access Patient Assistance Program, Aronin also state: “Patients currently receiving deflazacort from other sources may continue to have that option.” Damn right.
Is it hypocritical of PhRMA to diss Marathon? After all, brand drug companies jacked prices 130 times the inflation rate in 2015. Forty-five million Americans didn’t fill a prescription in 2016 due to cost. PhRMA will continue its practice of legal bribery and unleash a new, shiny PR campaign about life sciences and innovation — to prevent legislative and regulatory reforms that would lower drug prices. It’s going to take an unpredictable, unexpected populist wave of American anger at drug companies to bring their house down. In the meantime, maybe the people will take a hint from one PhRMA board member and import unapproved and lower cost medications.