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Imported Medications From Credentialed Online Pharmacies Are “So Safe”

Getting the truth about Online Pharmacies

The economist and drug safety expert Roger Bate, PhD, affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, published a short article this week, the title of which says it all: “Credentialed online pharmacies are so safe that peer review literature is no longer interested in results showing it.” The gist is that he and colleagues have been testing medications for several years, since 2008, as mystery shoppers ordering online domestically here in the U.S. and internationally for import. The research shreds the myths of the drug companies by presenting peer-reviewed data to derive what are called “facts” about the Internet and importation. The main fact proved is that importing medications, ones ordered online, can be equally safe as U.S. pharmacies.

In the studies from 2008-2016, 822 online medication orders were tested: 275 medications from 22 international online pharmacies verified by PharmacyChecker.com (12 of which are also verified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association); 127 medications from eight U.S.-only online pharmacies verified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and/or LegitScript.com, and the rest from websites with no verification.

Verified U.S. pharmacies sold zero counterfeits but one (out of 127) order of generic Cipro was substandard. Verified international pharmacies sold zero counterfeits but one (out of 275) order of generic Cipro was substandard. On a percentage basis, the PharmacyChecker.com-verified websites performed best (but that’s nitpicking). And for those of you thinking, well, one was substandard…that same medication is available at your local Walgreens or CVS. Read the research.

In contrast, online pharmacies with no verification (Dr. Bate calls it “credentialing”) sold eight counterfeits and 16 substandard drugs (out of 332 tested).

How about prices? When it came to brand name drug prices, the studies showed that credentialed international pharmacies were about 60% cheaper. (more…)

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PhRMA Targets PharmacyChecker on Google Ads

This week I’m down in Washington, DC, talking to policy-makers and activists, setting off alarm bells about Big Pharma’s campaign to not only kill prescription importation legislation but also the ability for Americans to currently buy medications from Canada and elsewhere at all. I have a feeling Big Pharma knows I’m here, which is kind of cool (but also freaks me out because they are very powerful and we are not). Here’s the very quick story.

When I searched “pharmacychecker” in Google I noticed the top advertisement was placed by none other than the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (“Big Pharma”). That ad doesn’t show up in Brooklyn where I live but appears targeted in Google to the DC area. They know that our pricing information, verification work we do for patient safety, and advocacy is compelling to some public policy and healthcare advocates down here, so they pay Google to get their message on top. As if Big Pharma’s 1100 lobbyists aren’t enough!

It’s a badge of honor (but there’s no sleep til Brooklyn).

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Brussels Principles promote online access to affordable medication

Principles to guide the Internet community on ethical medication sales

A few months back, I wrote about a panel that I put together as part of my work with PharmacyChecker.com and Prescription Justice, a non-profit group dedicated to ending the crisis of high drug prices in America. The panel was one of hundreds of sessions at the RightsCon Conference in Brussels, an event that brings together Internet freedom, human rights and social justice activists. The panel discussed issues related to buying medication online, Internet freedom, importation and drug affordability – and the negative impact of the pharmaceutical industry on all of the above.

Essentially, drug companies have spent millions of dollars on funding “non-profit” groups, public relations efforts, lobbying Congress and international organizations, Interpol (I kid you not), etc., with the goal of making it hard, if not impossible, for people to buy safe and lower cost medication online from other countries, which include people in America, that can’t afford it locally. Their activities intentionally conflate the intentional sale of counterfeit and substandard drugs with safe international online pharmacies.

The panel was a great step forward in giving the consumer side of this issue a larger voice. The panelists discussed and edited a draft set of principles on medication sales and the Internet. It took a while, but, on June 15, 2017, Knowledge Ecology International and Prescription Justice finalized and endorsed what we’re calling the Brussels Principles, which are published below. (more…)

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Legalize it; don’t criticize it – prescription drug importation

In 1976, reggae legend, Peter Tosh, released his song “Legalize It” – calling for the legalization of marijuana. In it, he sings “legalize it, don’t criticize it.” Needless to say, that’s already becoming our reality in the U.S. where, to varying degrees, many states have made pot legal. The federal government has begrudgingly accepted dissension in the ranks of states. Yes, there are rumblings that under Attorney General Jeff Sessions things are going to change. We’ll see.

This week, journalist and pharmaceutical industry analyst, Ed Silverman, from Stat News, published an opinion article called “It’s time to make it legal for Americans to order prescription drugs from abroad.” Unlike the downpour of op-eds against importation sponsored by drug companies, Silverman has no financial interest in this.

To be intellectually honest, Silverman’s call to action is qualified. He seems to be saying to “legalize it,” but he’s not necessarily advising that we not “criticize it.” There are real threats from counterfeit and otherwise substandard drugs that need to be addressed in reforming the law. Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, professor of medicine at Harvard, offers his own thoughts in Silverman’s piece: “We should be able to address this safety issue…To not have the conversation and instead say there’s no way to import medicines safely is a cop-out.” (more…)

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Americans Don’t Buy Safe and Affordable Medication Online Out of Fear and the Law: Sad

According to a Zogby Poll (see graphic) conducted in February of this year, 31.6% of Americans who said they have never ordered a medication online from another country cited fear of substandard drugs. Another 32.3% cited the law restricting the practice. Most often (44%) people said they preferred to get medication from local pharmacists, which I liked – but I’m aware that for that group affordability was less of an issue.

What bothers me is that out of the 45 million Americans who did not fill a prescription in 2016 due to cost, how many would have been able to if educated properly about safe international online pharmacies or if the law was more permissive? (more…)

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RightsCon Panel Defends Internet Access to Affordable Medication

RightsCon: Defending consumer rights to affordable medication on the Internet (left to right: Gabriel Levitt, Jeremy Malcom, Andrew Goldman, Burcu Kilic, Paul Zickler)

Defending consumer rights to affordable medication on the Internet (left to right: Gabriel Levitt, Jeremy Malcom, Andrew Goldman, Burcu Kilic, Paul Zickler)

Access to medicines and Internet rights advocates came together yesterday for a panel at the RightsCon conference in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss the importance of, and threats to, online access to safe and affordable medication. In my capacities as president of PharmacyChecker.com and founder of Prescription Justice, I submitted the concept for this panel to RightsCon, a conference that focuses on issues relating to human rights and the Internet, such as freedom of expression, curbing violent extremism, and privacy and data protection.

The panel included Jeremy Malcolm, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Andrew Goldman, Knowledge Ecology International; Burcu Kilic, Public Citizen; Paul Zickler, Canadian International Pharmacy Association, and Gabriel Levitt. We came together to push back against the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to control what is and is not permissible on the Internet when it comes to medication sales and the importation of prescription drugs for personal use.

My presentation’s focus was on the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to afford medication and how the Internet provides them with access to lower cost medication imported for personal use. I will follow-up with a more detailed report on the panel discussions and a workshop that followed, where we drafted a Statement of Principles for the online sale of medication, one inspired by the belief that access to affordable medications is an essential component to the fundamental human right to health.

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