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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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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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