PharmacyChecker Blog

Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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Fewer Americans Importing Medications in 2016: Good or Bad? Oh, and Happy New Year!

Times Squaer Crowd New Year's Eve
As we move out of 2015 and into 2016 with a strong wave of hostility rising throughout the country about high drug prices, what I’m about to report may seem incongruous. Fewer Americans seem to be buying lower cost medications from other countries. For the past few years, largely based on data from the CDC in 2013, I’ve published the number five million as the approximate number of Americans who, due to high drug prices, import medication annually for personal use. But a newer CDC report published in 2015 (that I recently came across) puts that number closer to four million, a 20% decrease.

If drug prices are going up, and Americans are fed up with prescription costs, wouldn’t you expect more people to be buying lower cost medications from outside the country? With fewer Americans buying medication internationally, potentially one million, how many of them are simply not taking prescribed medication? Are our most trusted authorities scaring Americans away from obtaining lower cost medications from other countries, or has affordable access improved over the past few years?

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A New Non-Profit Is Born – Prescription Justice Action Group – To Help Americans If Their Meds Are Taken by the FDA

pjag_banner_med

Today, as the Obama administration hosted a “public” forum (think invitation only) about pharmaceutical innovation, access and affordability, I announced the formation of a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Americans get justice when it comes to prescription drug prices: Prescription Justice Action Group (PJAG). Whereas the administration’s public forum ignored personal drug importation, PJAG is providing guidance to Americans on what to do if their prescription drug orders are refused import by the FDA so they can try to have their medications released.

For about fifteen years, tens of millions of Americans have purchased medication from outside the U.S. –usually ordering it online. They do it because they want to save money or they really cannot afford the medication here at local pharmacies. The fact is that it has become a lifeline of lower cost medications for Americans.

But a new law – Section 708 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act – gives the FDA expanded powers to destroy your personally imported medications, whether bought from a Canadian, Indian, Turkish or U.K. pharmacy. That doesn’t mean they will. It just means that they can. That law became effective over a month ago, and we haven’t heard of increased FDA seizures and destructions of international prescription orders.

The FDA has stated, and we have re-affirmed on our blog and main website, that under most circumstances it’s technically illegal to import prescription medication for personal use. But is it really? Is it always?

Section 708 allows the FDA to detain and potentially destroy your prescription order if it appears to be misbranded, unapproved, counterfeit or adulterated. If they take your adulterated or counterfeit drugs then the FDA has done their job. Misbranded or unapproved drugs, in contrast, could be entirely safe and effective medications, the same or foreign versions of the ones you buy in the U.S., but much less expensive. Under Section 708, you must be notified by the FDA if they take your prescription drug import, and you have 20 days to challenge them on their action. PJAG, in consultation with legal advisers, believes that you can make a good case that FDA should not destroy the medication but instead send it to you.

There are many dangerous online pharmacies out there from which you don’t want to buy or import medication. We call them rogue online pharmacies. But if you import a genuine, safe and effective medication, one that was purchased from a PharmacyChecker.com-approved online pharmacy and you get a notification from the FDA telling you that your prescription drug order is subject to destruction…PJAG!

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On The Newly Formed Congressional Task Force on Prescription Drug Prices…

Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Press Conference November 4, 2015
Americans should know about the heat coming down against the pharmaceutical industry from certain members of Congress in an effort to combat the public health crisis of high drug prices. This week, nine lawmakers from the House of Representatives announced the formation of a new group called the Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force. Its goals are clear, to lower cost barriers to life saving medication and to demand greater transparency about drug cost decisions made by the pharmaceutical industry.

Two pertinent facts were continually raised. One, high drug prices are the No. 1 healthcare issue in America. Two, medication prices are much lower in other countries, about 50% lower in the UK.

To announce the task force, a press conference was led by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and included speeches by Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-MI), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD). We wrote about Rep. Cummings’ efforts a couple of weeks back as Congressman Cummings noted PharmacyChecker.com as a supporter of the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015. I also want to note  thank Congresswoman DeLauro for recently becoming a co-sponsor of the Personal Drug Importation Fairness Act of 2015.

The speakers have supported a variety of solutions to lowering drug prices, including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies; ending “pay-for-delay,” a practice sometimes described as payoffs by brand drug patent holders to generic drug companies to that the latter will postpone launching a lower cost generic; reforming prescription drug importation laws to make it easier to access lower cost medications from other countries; and greater oversight into pharmaceutical industry pricing practices.

Some highlighted quotes or phrases:

  • “If the people are not able to afford their prescriptions that means they suffer and in some instances they die.” Rep. Cummings.
  • McDermott’s take: “The pharmaceutical companies have got the Congress in the palm of their hand and they will not let us go.”
  • The problem of high drug prices was referred to as an “emergency situation” by Rep. Sander Levin.

It’s no secret that I support much of this agenda. But what is needed is bipartisanship, and I’m waiting for these leaders, as part of their noble effort, to consider looking critically at the Obama administration’s record on personal drug importation and online pharmacies. Candidate Obama in 2007 supported reforming the law to make it easier for Americans to import lower cost medication. Unfortunately, in its efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act, which I supported, the Obama administration made a deal with big pharma to change course and dump drug importation legal reform in exchange for pharma’s support for Obamacare and agreement to new discounts on Medicare Part D medications through the coverage gap (the “Donut hole”).

On that final note, the Obama administration, though the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has announced a forum on drug prices to be held on November 20th. Maybe we’ll learn that the Obama administration’s position on prescription drug importation has returned to one more in line with most Americans. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

(You can view the complete press conference below)

Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Press Conference

Members of the newly formed Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force will hold a press conference announcing meaningful action to combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals. Who: Reps. Cummings, Doggett, McDermott, DeLauro, Schakowsky, and Welch.


Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Press Conference – Nov 4, 2015

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Congressman Cummings Notes PharmacyChecker.com’s Support for the Prescription Drug Affordability Act

Elijah_CummingsCropIn his article for AFRO – “A Growing National Outcry for Lower Prescription Drug Prices” – we were pleased to be noted by Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) as a supporter of the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015, and one of several organizations, including Public Citizen, Families USA, and Knowledge Ecology International that “speak of millions of Americans.” The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is a candidate for the Democratic Primary.

Rep. Cummings highlights the fact that American public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of legal and regulatory reform to bring down drug prices. His legislation calls for Medicare to negotiate drug prices with drug companies, ending “pay-to-delay” deals, which are often characterized as payoffs from brand to generic drug companies to postpone introducing a lower cost generic, and reforming drug importation laws to expand our access to lower cost medications in other countries.

PharmacyChecker.com is not taking sides in a partisan fashion. Republicans, Democrats, and independents agree on the urgency of tackling drug prices in America. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Charles Grassley (R-IW), and David Vitter (R-LA) have all introduced and sponsored drug importation reform legislation over the past few years that we support. Another example is Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who wrote an op-ed strongly in favor of legal reform of drug importation to help Americans buy lower cost medications from Canada.

The most critical factor is that we move in the right direction towards expanding access to affordable medication, and we salute Congressman Cummings for doing so.

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Brand Name Medications Savings Often Exceed 90% Using International Online Pharmacies but FDA Rule May Threaten Access

"Abstract pills" by Robson# - Flickr: Pills here. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abstract_pills.jpg#/media/File:Abstract_pills.jpg

“Abstract pills” by Robson – Flickr

We issued a press release yesterday about our new drug price savings analysis, which shows that consumers can save 84% on average among a basket of 10 popular branded maintenance medications if purchased from verified international online pharmacies instead of local U.S. pharmacies. Many of the savings are over 90%! The greatest savings is 94% for the acid-blocking drug Nexium ($946.50 in the U.S. vs. $53.09 online for a three month supply of 40 mg pills) and the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor ($803.89 vs. $51.40 – 20 mg pills). The greatest dollar savings is for the antipsychotic drug Abilify ($3,178.99 vs. $237.05 – 10 mg pills). The average annual savings per drug is $3,479. Despite this, last month, the U.S. FDA announced a “new rule” regarding its expanded authority to destroy personally imported medicine under Section 708 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety Act of 2012. Several members of congress have raised concern that FDA’s rules may impede access to affordable medication. [1]

The FDA says that its new regulation is meant to protect patients from unsafe medications and counterfeit drugs but the agency doesn’t seem to say how they will distinguish safe from potentially unsafe personal drug imports.

For the full press release, click here.

Prices for a 3-month supply of top-selling brand name medications
Drug Local U.S. Pharmacy Price International Online Pharmacy Price* International Online Savings Annual Savings
Nexium 40mg $946.50 $53.09 94% $3,573.64
Crestor 20mg $803.89 $51.40 94% $3,009.96
Abilify 10mg $3,178.99 $237.05 93% $11,767.75
Advair Diskus 250/50mcg (180 doses) $1,203.00 $99.99 92% $4,412.04
Spiriva Handihaler 18mcg $1,221.00 $113.99 91% $4,428.04
Diovan 80mg $611.99 $57.85 91% $2,216.56
Synthroid 100mcg $137.99 $26.99 80% $444.00
Jardiance 10mg $1,150.00 $287.99 75% $3,448.04
Ventolin HFA 100mcg $192.00 $68.82 64% $492.72
Lantus Solostar 15ml $397.89 $148.94 63% $995.80
Average $984.33 $114.62 84% $3,478.85

Sources: Local pharmacy prices based on prices at chain drugstores in New York City; International online pharmacy prices based on lowest prices listed on PharmacyChecker.com. All prices obtained on September 30, 2015.

*Medications dispensed by licensed pharmacies, verified by PharmacyChecker.com, in one of the following countries Australia, Barbados, Canada, India, Mauritius, New Zealand, Turkey, Singapore, or United Kingdom.

[1] U.S. Senator David Vitter, “Vitter Fights to Keep Prescription Drug Prices Affordable Through Reimportation,” July 9, 2014 [press release], see [www] vitter.senate.gov/newsroom/press/vitter-fights-to-keep-prescription-drug-prices-affordablethrough-reimportation [Last accessed 9/20/14]. 38 Representative JoAnn Emerson (MO), “Food and Drug Administration Reform Act.” May 30th 2012. See [www] votesmart.org/public-statement/702416/food-and-drug-administration-reform-act-of-2012#.UxVJN-co4s9 [Last accessed 9/22/14]. Letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by Congressman Keith Ellison dated July 1st, 2014. See See [www] regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2014-N-0504-0022.

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Montana Case Against CanadaDrugs:  What Consumers Should Know

Almost three years ago, we blogged about a federal investigation of CanadaDrugs.com, which for many years has safely sold prescription medication at prices far lower than typically available in the U.S, and which is a verified online pharmacy in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program. The investigation focused on CanadaDrugs.com’s wholesale drug importation and distribution to doctors and clinics — an area CanadaDrugs.com has long since exited. It did not focus on CanadaDrugs.com’s retail sales to consumers for personal use, which is the focus of the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program and the information we provide to consumers on our website about online pharmacies.

Recently, an indictment was unsealed in federal district court in Montana that charged CanadaDrugs.com, Ltd. (the entity which owns CanadaDrugs.com) and others with illegal wholesale drug importation, which allegedly occurred between three to six years ago.  The allegations include wholesale distribution of a counterfeit version of the cancer drug Avastin to medical clinics in the U.S.

The indictment of CanadaDrugs, Ltd, comes as no surprise, as the investigation was well publicized. It will also come as no surprise, however, when the U.S. pharmaceutical industry tries to use the charges, which focus exclusively on wholesale drug importation, in an effort to discredit safe personal drug importation. As we have written here and opined in the New York Times, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy chains feel threatened because Americans can and do safely purchase their medications online at substantially lower cost from pharmacies in other countries. Thus, the industry, the “non-profit” groups it funds, and the government agencies which it lobbies and seeks to influence, will see this indictment as yet one more opportunity to scare people from personal drug importation.  This slight of hand is wrong, since the investigation and indictment have nothing to do with personal drug importation. In fact, even the Wall Street Journal, which was instrumental in publicizing the investigation, clarified the difference between wholesale businesses and CanadaDrugs.com:  “There is no indication that fake medicines were sold through the company’s consumer-focused website, CanadaDrugs.com.”

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