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My Letter to the Editor of New York Times on Epipen and Personal Drug Importation

Talking to the New York Times!

Talking to the New York Times!

Last week the New York Times published my Letter to the Editor in response to an article about Mylan’s despicable increase of the life-saving drug Epipen, which saves people from serious allergic reactions. In “An Outcry Over the Price of Epipen,” my Letter’s focus is really on Congress and the need for them to actually do something besides talk.  I note that personal drug importation, which is already happening, should not just be tolerated as a technically illegal behavior for which patients are never prosecuted but encouraged using proper guidance so that people can afford the prescriptions they need.

The other Letters provide excellent contributions to the policy debate.  Caroline Poplin, who is a doctor, lawyer and healthcare analyst (wow!), criticizes drug companies for their abuse of our patent laws and federal regulations that allow them to maximize profits over patients. She believes that where the market is producing “bad results” government ought to provide remedies.

Sarah fink writes that due to the price of Epipen, her serious allergic reaction forced the plane she was on to land! Here we learn that airlines started cutting back on keeping Epipens on places due to the price. This was my favorite Letter.

Again, check it out here.

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The Next President Will Support Legalizing Personal Drug Importation…Really?

Want Lower Cost Medication

Want Lower Cost Medication

One week ago, the CEO and founder of PharmacyChecker.com, Tod Cooperman, and RxRights leader Lee Graczyk, published an op-ed in The Hill’s Congress Blog, entitled: “The candidates agree: Legalize personal imports of prescription drugs.”  In a nutshell, as the title makes clear, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both support making it expressly legal to import prescription medication for personal use. This issue is sometimes one of life and death as the media spotlight on Mylan’s drug price spike of Epipen last week makes clear. You might be thinking, “Well, no one gets busted for importing personal prescription orders now so what’s the big deal?” It’s a huge deal.

Currently, about four million Americans import medication for personal use due to cost. But there are more Americans who need to in order to get the medications prescribed to them. If it were technically legal, millions more Americans would buy lower cost medication from Canada and other countries. How many? (more…)

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Justcare.org Founder Diane Archer Interviews PharmacyChecker’s VP for Pharmacy Verification

Independent, unbiased health information.

Independent and unbiased health information

Consumer advocate Diane Archer is the founder of JustCare (www.justcareusa.org), a new online resource that makes health advice fun and easy to understand for boomers, older adults and care providers. We’re excited to announce that Diane interviewed our Vice President for Pharmacy Verifications and Information, Kelly Ann Barnes, JD, Rph, about online pharmacy safety and savings. The interview clearly shows why online pharmacies can save you money –– and how PharmacyChecker.com’s verification efforts give consumers information they need to find the safest international online pharmacies.

In Justcareusa.org’s most recent newsletter, Diane writes: “Can online pharmacies offer safe drugs at huge savings? You bet!” As Chair of the Consumer Reports Board of Directors and founder of the Medicare Rights Center, Diane is a nationally recognized consumer advocate and we’re honored and pleased to have her support for the work we do. It speaks volumes about the integrity that she brings to Justcareusa.org in making it a truly objective and independent source of health information for older Americans and the people who care for them.

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Prescription Justice and Section 708 Update

I’m pleased to announce that the Prescription Justice Action Group (PJAG) has a new and improved website; and for those of you that follow PharmacyChecker.com’s advocacy efforts on these blog pages I believe you’ll like it! The site just looks a lot better, it’s easier to use and therefore more helpful.

As a reminder, last November we announced the formation of PJAG, a non-profit organization dedicated to defending Americans if the FDA refuses and threatens to destroy their personal drug imports and advocating for policies to lower domestic drug prices. The motivation to start PJAG was the passage of legislation back in 2012 giving new, potentially harmful regulatory powers to the FDA. Often referred to as Section 708, the law allows FDA to more easily destroy personally imported medication. The new rules went into effect on October 15th of 2015.

FDA may be seizing medications in larger numbers ordered from rogue online pharmacies but to date they have not greatly increased refusals of medication ordered internationally from PharmacyChecker-approved online pharmacies. I write “greatly” because I’ve heard that there have been some increases. Historically, over 99% of prescription drug imports ordered from international online pharmacies that require a prescription have reached the patient.

PJAG’s website provides guidance to show consumers how to submit a letter to the FDA to defend a medication they have ordered from an international pharmacy, if they get a letter that it’s being held by the FDA and subject to destruction. It’s not easy and it takes patience but following PJAGs guidance could be helpful: at a maximum to get your medication back in the unlikely event it’s taken, and at minimum to send a message to the FDA that they took medication from you and now you can’t afford it. PJAG blogs that it’s working to create a web form portal to make the submission process easier. We’ll report back when that’s up and running.

We also support the grassroots consumer advocacy efforts of RxRights and hope that you sign-on to its ongoing, multiple campaigns to contact your elected leaders about the high cost of medication.

 

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Can you buy lower cost medication from foreign pharmacies in your neighborhood?

Vero Beach Strip Mall

Vero Beach Strip Mall by Sylvar, Creative Commons

Yes, but it depends where you live. For example, if you live in Florida, according to Kaiser Health News, apparently it’s very easy to find a local “storefront” where you can buy lower cost medication from Canada and other countries. Of course, consumers do not need to go to a pharmacy storefront to benefit from lower drug prices in other countries. They can compare drug prices among safe international online pharmacies in our Verification Program.

As with most personal drug importation, the FDA has said importing meds from foreign pharmacies is technically illegal under most circumstances. In practice, the FDA does not prosecute individuals for importing small quantities of prescription drugs for personal use. According to Kaiser Health News, the pharmacy storefronts in Florida have not faced regulatory actions. A professor of health policy at University of South Florida, Sean Greggory, stated that shutting down storefronts “would be seen as restricting access to affordable drugs and supporting big bad [drug] corporations.”

PharmacyChecker.com checks the credentials of international online pharmacies to verify that they are licensed and operating properly but to date we have not checked storefront pharmacy operations. However, over the years, we’ve heard about storefronts throughout the U.S. that refer orders to pharmacies in other countries and, if those pharmacies are licensed and operating safety, we think it’s great!

The need for the storefronts is greatest among older Americans. Their Part D Medicare drug plans are not always adequate to cover prescription costs and seniors continue to face drug affordability problems. The storefronts, like international online pharmacies, offer much lower prices on brand name drugs than local U.S. pharmacies.

When online pharmacies, particularly the Canadian options, were first available over 15 years ago, many seniors did not know how to use the Internet or felt uncomfortable doing so. In 2000, only 14% of seniors used the Internet, compared to 58% in 2015 [Source]. But that still leaves a lot of seniors who might have trouble ordering medication online by themselves. For them, pharmacy storefronts can be a lifeline. As the Kaiser article points out, while “Many consumers do their own online buying from foreign pharmacies…storefront operators target an older generation interested in buying medicines abroad but who lack computer savvy and are insecure about buying online by themselves.”

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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.”

(more…)

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