Using very similar talking points to Big Pharma-funded experts, in its quest to “educate” the public about the dangers of internet pharmacies and personal medicine imports, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) appears to have ignored the greatest pharmacy-related public health travesty happening right under its nose. Since the beginning of this century, billions of prescription opioid pills were wrongly, and in many cases unlawfully, pushed on and distributed to Americans. The result is about 500,000 deaths since 1999. The main culprits in sowing this drug epidemic are usually identified as big pharmaceutical companies and distributors.
Citing the case of the Rochester Drug Cooperative, I have asked before where the NABP was in tackling this opioid crisis. I was mostly referring to its quasi-regulatory role in certifying wholesale pharmacies through its Verified-Accredited Wholesale Distributors (VAWD) program because all major distributors accredited through VAWD – AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health – have been implicated in the opioid epidemic. As reported in the New York Times last week, a new court filing provides details showing how major U.S. pharmacy retail giants – including Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walmart – were “as complicit in perpetuating the crisis as the manufacturers and distributors of the addictive drugs.”
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.
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.
As I wrote
a few weeks back, PharmacyChecker
filed an antitrust lawsuit against five organizations that we believe are largely
funded or backed by pharmaceutical companies. We allege that these
organizations have conspired to illegally suppress competition in the areas of online
pharmacy verification services and drug price comparisons on the Internet. The
organizations are the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP),
Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), Partnership for Safe Medicines
(PSM), LegitScript, and the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP).
As part of that suit, we filed a motion for preliminary
injunction to immediately stop the NABP from including PharmacyChecker.com and
this blogsite on its “Not Recommended Sites” list. That list was created to
ostensibly identify rogue online pharmacies but has included safe international
online pharmacies from its very inception. More recently NABP’s oversight has
been expanded, apparently, to also include sites—such as this blog—that help
consumers avoid rogue online pharmacies and find affordable drug prices!
This week was a breakthrough for holding accountable the
pharmaceutical industry for fueling
the opioid crisis, which is responsible for approximately 400,000 deaths
in the U.S. alone. In a landmark ruling, a judge in Oklahoma fined Johnson
& Johnson $572 million for deceptive and aggressive marketing practices of
opioid drugs that contributed to 6,000 deaths in that state. State prosecutors
were successful by charging the drug company under laws relating to “public
nuisances.” To remedy and remove the nuisance, the fine will go toward treatment,
education and prevention programs related to opioid drugs. This resonates
powerfully with me because, for years, I’ve observed how the drug industry abused
the opioid crisis as a lobbying and public relations tool against prescription
drug importation and to crack down against safe international online pharmacies,
and even against
PharmacyChecker. It has done so through its own trade associations and
companies and by funding organizations to do their bidding.
Increasingly frustrated with the state of drug costs in the U.S., millions
of Americans have found refuge in ordering necessary prescription medications
online from Canadian or other international pharmacies for roughly a tenth the cost
of those at their local Walgreens, CVS, or other pharmacy.