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Rep. Norman Thurston’s Utah Drug Importation Bill

The Utah State Capitol

Utah State Representative Norman Thurston (R-64) has introduced legislation that would allow pharmacy wholesalers in Utah to import lower-cost pharmaceuticals to be sold within state lines. The bill’s goal is to lower the growing burden of prescription drug costs on the Utah budget and reduce out-of-pocket costs for Utah residents. The legislation is largely based on model state drug importation legislation drafted by the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP).

The bill, H.B. 163, “The Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Act,” differs substantially from past state-based initiatives, legislation, and laws on prescription drug importation.  The most pronounced difference is that it seeks formal approval from the federal government to import medication from Canada. Past state laws on drug importation sought to circumvent federal regulations, such as in Maine, where the law was overturned in 2015. (more…)

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New FDA Tests Indicate Imported Drugs Are Safe

 

FDA Testing Lower-Cost Imported Medications

Tens of millions of people have bought medications from foreign pharmacies – despite the technical illegality of importing those medications. According to reporting by Kaiser Health News last month, the FDA tested imported medications, apparently to see if what Americans are doing is safe. All medications the FDA tested “contain[ed] the ingredients matching the medicines ordered.”

The Kaiser Health News reporting was focused on international pharmacy options offered by local governments and school. While that’s interesting, it’s not breaking news (I mentioned it here). The FDA testing imports and saying the medications are safe, albeit begrudgingly, is breaking news. (more…)

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“Bring me back some Canadian insulin. It’s 50 percent cheaper up there.” – Shameless Shames Big Pharma

Shameless Showtime TV seriesThe December 17th episode of the television comedy Shameless provides a pathetic commentary on unfairly high prices of drugs in the U.S.  In the episode, the lead character, Frank, announces that, for a fee, he’ll help smuggle Americans into Canada. But, it turns out, what people really want is for Frank to buy and bring back their much-needed medicines–medications such as EpiPens, insulin, Invokana, and Tecfidera from Canada where they are more affordable.

Here’s the dialogue:

(more…)

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A Drug Importation Vocabulary Lesson: Misbranded and Unapproved Drugs

Words matter when it comes to drug importation

As we close out 2017, personal drug importation via online pharmacies remains a viable lifeline for American patients who can’t afford prices at their local pharmacies. Recent FDA actions against pharmacy storefront offices in Florida, ones that help Americans buy more affordable meds internationally, are troubling. On a positive note, a backlash against that crackdown by members of Congress, including Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chuck Grassley (R-IW), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has begun and will certainly grow. But what’s most on my mind is the FDA’s vocabulary about drug importation and how people tend to confuse certain terms.

In its efforts against personal drug importation, the FDA tells the public that it’s protecting them from misbranded and unapproved drugs. Those designations sound scary and who would want such drugs? Well, Americans would. The fact is, whatever the FDA wants to call them, if medications are lawfully-produced under Good Manufacturing Practices, properly dispensed by a licensed professional and shipped by mail order, Americans are interested.

Oh, and these drugs are a hell of a lot cheaper.

Despite the clear advantages, these medications deemed to be misbranded or unapproved under U.S. law can be refused import by the FDA even if they are equally as safe and effective or the exact same as the medications sold in the U.S.

Here’s why… (more…)

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NABP Changing Its Tune on Drug Importation?

For years, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has opposed new drug importation proposals that would improve access to more affordable medication from Canada and other countries. Led by its executive director, Carmen Catizone, PharmD, the NABP’s efforts pertaining to drug importation have focused mostly on opposing online access to imported medications – meaning Americans getting cheaper meds from Canada and other countries. This is not surprising. NABP has received a lot of money from pharmaceutical companies for these efforts. Also, NABP represents U.S. pharmacy boards and the members of those boards often have financial interests in U.S. pharmacies. But here’s a surprise…

Earlier this week, an article in the Washington Post focused on various prescription drug importation programs offered by cities, counties and schools to lower pharmaceutical bills for retirees and municipalities. According to the article, the FDA may view these programs as illegal. The FDA recently raided some pharmacy storefronts in Florida but did not shut them down. Those programs help Americans—especially the elderly— order affordable medications from other countries. Operating for 10, some even 15 years without interruption, they continue to save millions of dollars a year.

Mr. Catizone had the last word in the article. (more…)

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Eli Lilly’s and Alex Azar’s Position on Importation is a Canard

Alex AzarThis week, President Trump potentially handed Big Pharma one of its greatest victories by appointing Alex Azar the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Why? Until earlier this year, Alex Azar was the president of Eli Lilly USA and few people (companies are people?) on earth personify Big Pharma like Eli Lilly.

This matters to Americans who import lower cost medication to fill prescriptions because the FDA is an agency housed in HHS, and HHS has a lot of statutory power when it comes to importation of prescription drugs.

President Trump campaigned on making it legal for Americans to buy lower-cost medications from other countries, but Eli Lilly and Alex Azar are leading opponents of safe importation. In fact, Eli Lilly is perhaps the leader when it comes to hatching, or funding, strategic communications and lobbying campaigns to stop Americans from using safe, international online pharmacies. Its efforts through the non-profit group, Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies—FUNDED BY ELI LILLY—have been frighteningly successful at fooling our elected officials and the public that international online pharmacies are inherently bad for Americans. They do so by conflating counterfeit drugs and even fentanyl abuse with safe international online pharmacies. As I see it, Eli Lilly’s narrative on online pharmacy and importation incorporates the most sinister aspects of fake news. Really. (more…)

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