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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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How many people buying from international online pharmacies have a prescription?

PharmacyChecker.com-Approved Online Pharmacies will require your valid prescription.

One of the hallmarks of a safe international online pharmacy – or a domestic-only online pharmacy – is the requirement of a valid prescription, one that a customer obtains locally from his or her doctor or other licensed practitioner during an in-person medical consultation. Whereas rogue online pharmacies, domestic and international, sell prescription drugs without requiring a prescription or they offer a bogus remote medication consultation with an anonymous doctor. Most people looking to buy medications online are seeking lower prices; others do it because they can’t afford to see a provider or their providers won’t write the prescription they want.

A recent survey found that 76% of people who imported a drug for personal use that was ordered online had a prescription for the medication. Lower drug prices on a website that doesn’t require a prescription may be a prescription for disaster, as I’ll explain below. But for people who are ordering online with a prescription, the international savings can be a lifeline because medication costs so much less outside the U.S.

The survey on drug prices and importation was conducted by Zogby Analytics, commissioned by Prescription Justice and has a margin of error of +/-3.1%. Extrapolating the percentages to the general adult population we find 27 million Americans say that they have ordered medication online, imported for personal use; 20.5 million had a prescription; 6.5 million did not have a prescription. The number 20.5 million is surprisingly close to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey that showed about 19 million Americans say they import medication for personal use because of cost. (more…)

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Medication Safety is a Weak Argument Against Allowing Personal Prescription Importation

In this blog post I’m going to get personal. Not about me but about importing medication from Canada and other countries. You’ll see what I mean. Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment to the budget bill, which would have paved the way for future deficit neutral spending to implement new regulations expanding lawful access to lower cost imported medication from wholesalers, pharmacies and individuals. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated 52-46.

Let’s forget about the fact that drug companies give members of Congress lots of money. OK, I can’t forget: it’s about two billion dollars over the last 15 years. Some senators who voted against the amendment cited their concerns with safety as a basis for their vote. Let me explain why they are wrong, at least when it comes to personal vs. wholesale drug importation. (more…)

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A Great Read for Americans Who Want to Know What the Heck is Going in With Drug Prices!

...about the high cost of meds.

…about the high cost of meds.

For those who want a comprehensive but straightforward explanation about why drug prices are incredibly higher in the U.S. than in other countries, I strongly recommend reading in VOX, “The true story of America’s sky-high prescription drug prices.

Many of you know that in other countries, such as Australia and Canada, government agencies negotiate with pharmaceutical companies through myriad policy interventions to keep prescription drugs affordable for their citizens. This article explains how that’s done, why it works – but also identifies the tradeoffs where in some cases a new drug is not available outside the U.S. because regulators decide it doesn’t offer additional value over existing drugs.

It also addresses the issue of how research and development to find new drugs may be negatively affected if the U.S. institutes more control over drug prices. Some people argue that broader access to currently available drugs at lower prices means fewer new breakthrough drugs coming to market. [EDIT 12/9/2016: I wanted to make clear that many people do not agree with this position and argue that more drug company profits are spent on marketing and advertising than on research and development and the pharmaceutical industry greatly exaggerates the prospects of less innovation due to drug price controls].

In speaking with lots of people on different sides of the political spectrum and with contrasting governing philosophies — everyone agrees that us Americans are getting a bad deal on drug prices right now. This VOX piece really speaks to the issues at hand, objectively and truthfully, and if you’re interested in “getting it” you should read it.

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Will Trump Stand up to Big Pharma on Drug Importation to Tackle High Drug Prices?

We The PeopleFor the record, while I supported Obama for president, I was highly critical of the Obama administration for its obscenely cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, one that has led to unprecedented increases in drug prices during his tenure. During his first presidential campaign, President Obama had vowed to stand up to drug companies, and he supported allowing Americans to import medication to find savings in other countries. He ended up making a deal with Big Pharma to help him pass Obamacare, dumping his support for Medicare drug prices negotiations and importation.

Candidate Donald Trump voiced his support for federal drug price negotiations to bring down drug prices under Medicare and allowing consumers access to lower drug prices from overseas. Those are two policies that the pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars defeating over the past decade through large contributions to Democrats and Republican alike in Congress. Of course, Americans can order medications online from foreign countries and import them for personal use, but under the Obama administration it has become more difficult and remains technically illegal.

Mr. Trump states on his website: “Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America.” During the Republican Primary President-Elect Trump vowed to stand up to the drug companies, mocking the career politicians who take their money and do their bidding in Congress.

From the Right, Americans who hate the heavy hand of big government will laud a President Trump that tells the FDA not to interfere with their freedom to purchase a lower cost medication from Canada or another country. From the Left and in states that border Canada, such as Michigan, Americans would love to see a president who will stand up to the outrageous U.S. pricing policies of multinational pharmaceutical companies by taking actions to expand access lower cost imported medications.

With high drug prices viewed as the #1 healthcare cost concern in the county, ALL AMERICANS WANT TO SEE TRUMP STAND UP TO BIG PHARMA.

Now let’s see if he does.

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A Letter from 33 Members of Congress to Obama Commends Expressly Permitting-Legalizing Importation

We The PeopleEarlier this month 33 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama asking him to use executive authority to tackle the crisis of high drug prices in the U.S. The gist of the letter is that Congress is paralyzed (surprise surprise) to act. So, while we wait, and wait, and wait for Congress — the urgency of high drug prices calls for executive action.

One of the steps recommended is to expressly permit Americans to import lower cost medications for personal use. Well, Americans already do that and while its technically illegal, people aren’t prosecuted for doing so, and thus it’s generally permitted. But if it was expressly permitted it would remove the stigma of illegality, embolden many more consumers to import lower cost medication, deflate and defang the scare tactics of the pharmaceutical industry about importation and online pharmacies, and would instill more price competition into the U.S. market to bring down prices at local pharmacies.

A few questions. Don’t we need to pass a new law to “legalize” importation? Why do I choose to bold the phrase expressly permit? Would it be legal or expressly permitted? Maybe both? (more…)

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