Continuing our quest to get the truth out and for our elected leaders in Congress to take bold action to protect online access to safe and affordable medication, we’re publishing a section a week of our report called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health. The Government Accountability Office Report on Internet pharmacies, which we’ve attested contains inaccuracies and is misleading about buying medication online, clearly relied heavily on pharmaceutical industry sources. Here’s how:
Some pharmaceutical companies, including many members of the PhRMA, view foreign online pharmacies as a commercial threat because Americans are able to obtain medications at lower prices leading to lower profits. The U.S. pharmacy industry views non-U.S. online pharmacies as unfair competition because the latter can charge lower prices. Many of the groups identified by GAO as stakeholders are drug companies and U.S. pharmacies or groups that they fund, including the following groups:
- Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies
- International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Pharmacies
- National Association of Chain Drug Stores
- National Community Pharmacists Association
- Partnership for Safe Medicines
- Pharmaceutical Security Institute
Of the 35 stakeholder groups identified by GAO, at least 33% (13) are pharmaceutical companies or groups that receive funding by pharmaceutical companies or U.S. pharmacies. Another stakeholder is the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), as are eight of its member companies. CSIP is a private consortium of businesses formed in response to pressure by the White House Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, which mostly operates as another voice and information clearinghouse for the other stakeholders listed. Three associations representing U.S. pharmacy boards and pharmacies are listed above.
There are potentially unbiased stakeholders listed in GAO’s report, but they are not included as sources of data in the GAO report. The only real consumer organization mentioned as a stakeholder is AARP, but nothing in the report demonstrates that they contributed data or their viewpoint was considered. AARP is on record as advocating the creation of an FDA list of approved Internet pharmacies dispensing prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, as well as recommending PharmacyChecker.com and CIPA as information sources that help Americans find affordable medication from safe international pharmacies.
An important source of data for the GAO is LegitScript. In 2010, LegitScript obtained a contract from the FDA for $2.6 million dollars to help FDA with Internet monitoring of online pharmacies. In turn, with a number of pharmaceutical companies and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), LegitScript funds and is a steering member of the ASOP. 1 The GAO report informs us that CSIP contracts with a third party company to help identify rogue online pharmacies, but conspicuously doesn’t mention that the contracted company is LegitScript.2
As reviewed in detail below, the NABP, another critical source of data used in the GAO report, represents pharmacy boards. U.S. pharmacy boards, in turn, are staffed and led by U.S. pharmacy owners and executives. The conflicts of interest are clear in that about 50% of pharmacy board members own or work for a retail pharmacy 3; a group of people that generally view international online pharmacies, and any kind of personal drug importation, as unfair competition.
1 As disclosed on the website of Alliance for Safe Online pharmacies, see http://safeonlinerx.com/about-us/who-we-are/. Earlier versions of ASOP’s website showed specifically that LegitScript, Eli Lilly, and the National Association of Chain Drugstores were funders and steering members of the group.2 The GAO report reads as follows: “CSIP contracts with a third-party company that proactively searches the Internet to identify rogue Internet pharmacies and disseminates this information to its members. Congress should inquire why GAO did not just identify LegitScript as the “3rd party”.
3 Unpublished Research by PharmacyChecker 2014. We compiled the names and positions of almost all pharmacy board members in the U.S. and found that 50% were working for and/or practicing in U.S. retail pharmacies.