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.
Tagged with: 708, pjag, Prescription Justice Action Group, RxRights
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.”
Tagged with: Canadian pharmacies, Drug Importation, international online pharmacies, Storefront
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.”
Tagged with: avastin, canadadrugs, kamath, montana
Last week, Bing announced a new effort to use its search engine to warn consumers about threats from “fake” online pharmacies. The big problem is that at least some of the online pharmacies they list are not fake, but represent very real, licensed pharmacies, ones that require valid prescriptions and have been safely helping Americans afford medication for years. We know this because these pharmacies have been carefully evaluated, inspected, and monitored by us at PharmacyChecker.com, and meet high standards of pharmacy practice. See our standards: http://www.pharmacychecker.com/verification_program_guide_and_standards_1_3.pdf.
The online pharmacies targeted by Bing, which are approved in our program, are all located outside the U.S. Curtailing online access to lower cost and safe foreign medication using scare tactics is a strategy employed by the pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, Bing’s action seems to have a lot to do with stopping safe personal drug importation and will recklessly alarm Americans so they don’t buy more affordable medication from other countries.
Here is the warning which appears when a consumer’s Bing search results include links to one of these online pharmacies and they try to click on the link to that online pharmacy:
To choose the pharmacies it targets, Bing is relying on a list of online pharmacies which have received warning letters from the FDA. But, in at least several cases, these warning letters, which you can find on the FDA’s website, do not indicate a pharmacy to be fake, nor do they pertain to sales of counterfeit or adulterated medications, nor to any problems with the pharmacy meeting good standards of practice. Instead they relate to 1) sales of lawfully manufactured generic versions of drugs that are still on patent in the U.S., and 2) medications that are approved in Canada but not in the U.S. We will examine each of these letters fully over the next week, but our initial review indicates that these issues have been addressed by the online pharmacies in our Verification Program that received the letters.
The genesis of Bing’s action, which is most likely coordinated with the FDA, comes from the scare tactics about foreign medications conceived by pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying largesse. Why else would Bing decide to target only online pharmacies when many other pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufactures, and dietary supplement distributors have also received FDA warning letters for various infractions, yet Bing does not target them with its pop-up warning?
Bing’s actions would be great if the websites it is targeting were all fake or rogue online pharmacies, but they are not. When consumers see Bing’s warning, they will likely do one of three things:
- Keep searching for another online pharmacy that charges a price they can afford. They may find one of the tens of thousands of rogue pharmacy websites that don’t require a prescription (but are not included on FDA’s new list) and buy from that one. Then they are far more likely to end up with a counterfeit drug.
- Go to their local big chain pharmacy and pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars more for their prescribed medication. The Warning has a link to “safe online health purchases” but those take you to U.S. online pharmacies only, which are often the websites of the big chain pharmacies!
- Not take their prescription medication at all. Thirty-five million Americans each year already forgo prescribed medication due to cost.
These are horrible outcomes. Yes, warning Americans about rogue online pharmacies is good public policy. But leading Americans away from safe personal drug importation will just lead to fewer people getting medications they need, more Americans choosing between food and medicine, and larger profits for the big drug companies.
For those interested in a full policy analysis of FDA’s current campaign, please see our report called: “Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health.”
Tagged with: Big Pharma, Bing, FDA, international online pharmacies, PharmacyChecker Verification Program, rogue online pharmacies, search engines
Appearing on Fox and Friends this past Saturday morning, Tod Cooperman, MD, founder of PharmacyChecker.com, discussed our favorite topic – affording prescribed medication. The hosts wanted to know what is behind a recent class action lawsuit against CVS Health Corp in which the chain pharmacy is accused of overcharging consumers on generic drugs and how Americans can prevent getting bilked on price by pharmacies.
Lawsuit: CVS overcharged for generic drugs
CVS, like many chain pharmacies, has a prescription discount program, and the discounted prices can often be less than the co-pay required with some pharmacy benefit plans. However, CVS has apparently not been informing customers of the lower, discounted price. What has been happening is that hundreds of thousands of CVS customers have paid more money using their health insurance because the co-payments are higher than the discount program price.
Dr. Cooperman basically informed the public that this is probably a pretty common practice among U.S. chain pharmacies with similar programs. He said: “It’s really kind of ridiculous because you have people with insurance who…are being charged more than if you simply walked in and asked for the cash price or discounted price.” So what do you do? When you go to your local pharmacy, ask the pharmacist or pharmacy technician for the absolute lowest price you can pay. Call different pharmacies in your neighborhood, because generic drugs can sometimes cost five times more at one pharmacy than they do at another.
When medication is not affordable at your local pharmacy, international online pharmacies are an option for savings. Dr. Cooperman stated: “about five million Americans actually are now going outside the U.S. because they can’t afford their prescriptions.” Pharmacies in other countries sell safe and effective medications at much lower prices but rogue websites abound — so stick to verified international online pharmacies and compare their prices on www.pharmacychecker.com. Dr. Cooperman noted the technical illegality of personally importing meds but that the FDA doesn’t “go after consumers for doing it.”
Anna Kooiman, one of the hosts, mentioned that people lose their lives because they can’t afford medication. She added, “Listen, it might be illegal but some people do what they have to do to save their own lives.”
Yesterday, in the New York Times, Andrew Pollack reported on the swelling chorus of groups, politicians, and consumers who are sickened by the price of cancer drugs and medication costs generally. They are calling for pharmaceutical companies to justify the outrageous costs of medication.
As part of this swell of frustration and anger about drug prices, over 100 oncologists are calling for the U.S. government to take concrete steps to bring down the prices on expensive cancer medications, many which cost over $100,000/year. One of those steps is allowing importation of cancer drugs across borders for personal use. (What a novel idea!). Despite the federal restrictions on the practice, five million Americans already import prescription drugs for personal use because the costs of medicine are too high domestically. The imports help people afford medications that they would otherwise go without. While people are not prosecuted for doing so as long as the imports are for personal use, expressly legalizing safe prescription importation from licensed pharmacies in other countries is a great idea for all medications, not just cancer medications, and would probably cause medication prices to fall at U.S. pharmacies.
Personal drug importation is just one step among several that doctors are calling on to improve access to affordable cancer medication. Others include allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices like the Veteran’s Administration does; banning deals (“pay-to-delay”) between brand and generic drug companies, in which the former pays off the latter to postpone introducing a lower cost generic drug; and reigning in patent terms so that lower cost generics can come to market faster.
In reading the New York Times article, the tone of criticism reported on was veering toward visceral disgust that so many seem to have with the pharmaceutical industry. But the Wall Street Journal was on this issue, too. In “Doctors Object to High Cancer Drug Prices,” Jeanne Whalen writes: “The doctors focus attention on the financial burden to patients, saying the out-of-pocket costs are bankrupting many just as they’re fighting a deadly illness.”
To conclude, recall that last month we brought you a real story of an American family facing financial ruin due to the cost of a cancer medication. Lisa wrote:
“We are going broke, will probably lose our home and my husband will probably never be able to retire (even though his body is breaking down from 40+ years of a very physical job as a pipe fitter. I (the wife), am permanently disabled. We will die homeless before this drug ever comes within an affordable price.
“Why doesn’t anyone bring this to the press? Why does Congress and Obamacare turn a blind eye? How many hundreds have to die before this drug and options are researched.”
The media coverage mentioned in this post shows that people are bringing this to the press. It’s exactly the press coverage that Lisa and her family deserve, not to mention the tens of millions of Americans who don’t fill prescriptions each year because of cost! Now will the government do something or are they too under the yoke of the pharmaceutical industry lobbying juggernaut?