The article “Taming Drug Prices by Pulling Back the Curtain Online” in the New York Times (February 10, 2016) features a new website, Blink Health, which shows reduced drug prices available through local U.S. pharmacies. Its limitation is that savings are mostly on generic drugs, which, for the most part, are already fairly inexpensive. Describing Blink and a similar site, GoodRx, the article notes that, “The sites cannot help much with brand-name drugs, which are made by a single manufacturer and carry prices that can be as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The article fails to mention that the largest pharmacy savings on the Internet are from international online pharmacies which can offer you the lowest prices worldwide. These prices can be found on PharmacyChecker.com, which, “pulls back the curtain” even further back than Blink Health or GoodRx, by exposing the huge gap (often more than 80%) between drug prices in the U.S. and in other countries like Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Turkey, and the UK. You can also find discounted local U.S. pharmacy prices on PharmacyChecker.com.
The table below shows the lowest prices on popular brand name drugs found on PharmacyChecker.com, BlinkHealth.com, and GoodRx.com in comparison to regular U.S. pharmacy pricing.
Lowest Prices and Greatest Savings on Brand Name Drugs Using PharmacyChecker, Blink Health, and GoodRx
|Drug Name (Strength and Quantity*)
|Blink Health (BH)
Price at Local Pharmacy
|Greatest Savings Off Regular Price (Source)
(250-50; 180 doses )
(10 mg; 90 pills)
(5 mg; 180 pills)
(100 mg; 90 pills)
(20 mg; 90 pills)
Prices as of February 10, 2016
* Quantity represents a standard 3 month supply.
The prescription narcotic epidemic in America is banging on our national consciousness, almost as loudly as the issue of skyrocketing drug prices. The pharmaceutical industry and its front groups have tried in the past to conflate safe international online pharmacies with the illegal and dangerous online sale of controlled drugs, including prescription narcotics, and I’ve called them out over the years. Safe international online pharmacies do not sell prescription narcotics at all. But, unlike safe international online pharmacies, which sell non controlled medications at much lower prices, is Big Pharma pushing narcotics and fueling drug addiction in America? Apparently, yes.
As reported in The Fix, a documentary film called “Prescription Thugs” explores the connection between the pharmaceutical industry, the power it wields in Congress, and the painkiller addiction epidemic. It is the story of people who were introduced to painkillers when their doctors prescribed them, only to find themselves addicted. For years, the industry was making a certain formulation of the popular prescription opiate OxyContin that was easily abused by addicts and therefore driving astronomical sales. When a new form of the drug made it harder to crush and therefore inject intravenously, its sales tanked by 80%. You can view the film’s trailer at http://www.prescriptionthugs.com/.
Unfortunately, public scrutiny about high drug prices doesn’t usually lead to legislative fixes, such as passing legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and expand the practice of safe personal drug importation so more consumers access lower prices from foreign pharmacies. On the other hand, a New York Times article – “Even Talking About Reducing Drug Prices Can Reduce Drug Prices” – suggests, well, that “talking about” drug prices can reduce them, because pharma executives get scared that if they don’t moderate drug prices, more permanent and progressive fixes will finally happen.
In the article “I.P.F., Not Aging, Could Be Causing Breathlessness” in the New York Times this week, columnist Jane Brody explains that the drug Esbriet (pirfenidone) can “slow the loss of lung function and significantly reduce deaths” from an incurable lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or I.P.F.
The article notes that Esbriet was approved in the U.S. in 2014 and now 14,000 people have begun treatment, which costs $94,000 per year. The article also notes that the drug has been available for several years in other parts of the world (including Japan, India, Europe and Canada).
What the article does not mention is that this incredible drug can be purchased at just a fraction of the cost through many online pharmacies which dispense it from licensed pharmacies outside the U.S – where the cost is only about $2,000 per year, rather than $94,000 per year.
The standard dose of Esbriet is 801 mg per day – 3 capsules, each containing 267 mg of pirfenidone, according to the NIH website DailyMed. Outside the U.S., pirfenidone is sold as 200 mg capsules (so 4 capsules would provide a similar dose – 800 mg). In the U.S., the price of each 267 mg capsule (without any discount) comes out to about $85, while a 200 mg capsule from outside the U.S. costs about $1.50 (prices listed at http://www.pharmacychecker.com/generic/price-comparison/pirfenidone/200+mg/)
Why must Americans (and our government programs) pay 40 to 50 times more than to get this drug in the U.S. than from elsewhere?
I like showing Americans who are searching online for affordable medication, often from foreign pharmacies, that their mom and pop pharmacy on Main Street U.S.A. can actually offer a better deal. It’s actually pretty common. The generic version of Valium, diazepam, which treats anxiety, is a perfect example. Bottom line: no need to buy online or from Canada to save money.
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?