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.
Personal drug importation works! This week, drug company Marathon announced it is postponing the launch of Emflaza, its recently FDA-approved version of an off-patent drug called deflazacort, in the face of heavy scrutiny by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Elijah Cummings over its price tag – $89,000 a year. This drug, which treats Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), is available under the brand name Calcort in the United Kingdom at about 99% less (about $750) than the current U.S. “postponed” price. Generic versions of deflazacort are also available internationally among verified online pharmacies at an annual price tag of about $650.
For some background on the disease and treatment: DMD is a “genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness.” It mostly afflicts boys, with onset ranging from ages 3-5. It’s caused by the absence of a protein called dystrophin. For more, see the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s (MDA) website. According to the MDA, corticosteroids, including deflazacort, help slow the disease’s progression.
For a critique of the Emflaza price read Sanders and Cummings’ letter. No one could do better than that. Marathon CEO Jeff Aronin attempts to rationalize the price here but it almost reads like an apology. They argue that no consumer will deal with the $89,000 price tag because health insurers only charge a $20 co-pay and they have patient assistance programs to help the uninsured. It’s never that perfect, at all: people always slip through the cracks and we’re not forcing people to go without needed medication or go into bankruptcy to get it. Right?
So now a fist full of truth about this medication and safe online access to affordable medicines to shine a bright light on the lifeline that is personal drug importation… (more…)
As we close out 2016, I’m not surprised to be reporting and commenting on new survey data by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that 19 million Americans have purchased and imported lower cost medication from Canada and other countries. I suspect the number is higher and I’m sure it’s not high enough, as I’ll discuss at the conclusion of this post.
First, as reported in Kaiser Health News: “As drug prices have spiraled upward in the past decade, tens of millions of generally law-abiding Americans have committed an illegal act in response: They have bought prescriptions outside the U.S. and imported them.” The Kaiser story also reports that many such purchases are made online and while the FDA warns that many online pharmacies are not safe, “…many medicines purchased from another country are the same as the ones patients buy in the U.S.” That’s all true. The key to safety when buying medications internationally is only purchasing from properly verified websites, ones approved by PharmacyChecker.
Just to recap why importation is a lifeline, let’s look at some highlights from recent data. (more…)
This past summer we wrote about The Graedon’s Guide to Saving Money on Medicine, by the People’s Pharmacy, as a very worthwhile read. One of its sections talked about Narrow Therapeutic Index drugs for which generics are usually low cost and available in the U.S. but for some patients only the brand works: and the brands are very expensive. NTI drugs are those for which the precision of a medication’s dosage is of even greater importance than for most medications. Often these drugs are measured in micrograms not milligrams.
In its Guide, the People’s Pharmacy mentioned several popular medications that fall into the NTI category. We researched their prices and found medications on which Canadian online pharmacies offer spectacular savings, often 80%. They wrote about some of our findings in an article this week called: Can you trust Canadian online pharmacies?
As we’ve written before, many Canadian online pharmacies are really international online pharmacies because for years they’ve been partnering with pharmacies in other countries not just filling orders from Canada. But what was interesting about our data on the NTI drugs is that most of the lowest prices were in fact in Canada, not international pharmacies elsewhere.
Expect more in the New Year on how to get to the brand name drug you want at a price you can afford – including a deeper discussion on Narrow Therapeutic Index Drugs.