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REVIEW: The Opioid Crisis in America Course from Harvard University

Over 700,000 people died in the U.S. from a drug overdose between 1999 to 2017. That’s about 130 American deaths daily. At PharmacyChecker, we are dedicated to helping fight this epidemic by learning more about the crisis and spreading awareness. I recently obtained certification for The Opioid Crisis in America course offered by Harvard University.

According to a report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the main channels that people obtain opioid drugs illegally are from a friend or relative for free; buying from a friend or relative; or buying from a drug dealer or stranger.

As our main focus is often online pharmacy and importation, it’s notable that Harvard did not identify online pharmacy or importation as contributors to the opioid epidemic.

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NABP-Accredited Rochester Drug Cooperative Pleads Guilty to Illegal Opioid Drug Sales

NABP accredits company that pleaded guilty to illegal opioid sales

Rochester Drug Cooperative, a large pharmacy wholesaler accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), pleaded guilty last week to illegal sales of opioid drugs, including oxycodone and fentanyl. The NABP operates a program called Verified Authorized Wholesale Distribution (VAWD). According to its website, NABP VAWD accreditation helps “ensure that the wholesale distribution facility operates legitimately, is licensed in good standing, and is employing security and best practices for safely distributing prescription drugs from manufacturers to pharmacies and other institutions.”

The nation’s largest pharmacy wholesalers, McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, and Cardinal Health – companies with many NABP-accredited facilities – have all paid fines related to civil or criminal charges of illegal opioid drug sales, including fentanyl. Along with large drug companies, like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, and Insys Therapeutics, the main arteries of American’s “legitimate” drug distribution supply chain are accused of causing the opioid epidemic with 218,000 opioid-related deaths over the last 20 years.

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Pill Presses and Counterfeit Prescription Narcotics: Supporting the STEER Act

Counterfeit prescription narcotics

In their opposition to drug importation legislation, the myriad “non-profit” groups funded by drug companies often cynically invoke the evils of counterfeit drugs. We’ve seen this as recently as this week, when an importation bill triumphantly passed in Florida (Prescription Drug Importation Programs HB19). One such group, the Partnership for Safe Medicines, was called out by PolitiFact for essentially lying that the new state law would “allow” imports from China “without FDA inspection,” tacking on that “too many have already died from counterfeit drugs.”

The Florida drug importation bill builds in so many regulatory checks that it may in fact make importation from Canada into Florida safer than our “regular” drug supply chain, but that’s for another post. As it happens, no one has ever been reported killed by a non-controlled prescription drug imported from a pharmacy that required a valid prescription.

PolitiFact is right to call out PSM, but I’m sad to report that, yes, there is a very real counterfeit drug problem in the United States. But, unlike the fake counterfeit drug facts propagated by groups like PSM to scare people away from buying lower-cost medicines online, it comes in the form of illegal fentanyl ingredients used to make counterfeit prescription narcotics.

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Do Google & Bing censor online pharmacy search results? Pharmaceutical companies have called for censorship.

Google Bing search engine censorship

Until we lower drug prices here at home in America, online access to affordable medication internationally is clearly essential. But what if we lived in a country where people were no longer able to find safe international options online?

In an ideal world, search algorithms empower consumers to find the exact information they are looking for on these search engines. In a recent Google algorithm update (March 2019), which affected the “natural” or “organic,” non-paid search results, we wonder if there was foul play involved in which Google was caving in to Big Pharma. The Electronic Frontier Foundation identified this problem in 2016, in “How Big Pharma’s Shadow Regulation Censors the Internet.

The results at the very top of your Google search are often ads, which are of course paid placement: a different problem.

Please check out our new video on this difficult and troubling topic of censorship of online pharmacy and drug prices content.

Those patients searching on Google for information about affording medicine through online pharmacies were significantly disadvantaged by the Google March 2019 Core Update. The reason is that results for PharmacyChecker ‘s verification and pricing information are now much harder to find than they were on March 11th, 2019— a day before the update.

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Percent of Imported Pharmaceutical Ingredients Apparently Unchanged in 20 Years

Update FDA information

According to the FDA, in 2017, 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used to make our medicines are imported. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read (and written) that over the past decade or so. Almost every time I read that particular statistic in the news, it’s often a story about drug quality problems, in which foreign APIs are reported as a growing problem. Flashback to the FDA in 1998: as reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients used to make medicines for sale in the U.S. is about 80%.

In March 2019, Anna Edney, from Bloomberg News, wrote an article called: “Tainted Pills Force FDA to Tighten Drug-Safety Regulations.” The main focus of the article is that there are drug quality problems caused by APIs that are not meeting the required standards.

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Florida’s House Drug Importation Bill – HB 19 – Easily Passes

Drug Importation Bill - Drug Prices World

Yesterday, the Florida House Legislature voted 93-22 passing HB 19. The bill creates programs and processes for importing prescription drugs from Canada, as well as from other countries. HB 19 actually calls for the creation of two programs, which I have summarized below. For a deep dive, you should read the Staff Analysis from the Florida House of Representatives.

Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program (CPDIP)

If HB 19 becomes law, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) will create processes that meet the safety protocols called for in the bill, which include inspections and testing of drugs, to allow registered wholesale pharmacies to import from Florida-registered Canadian wholesalers. In this program, lower drug prices will save taxpayers money for government funded-entities, such as county health departments, free clinics, and the Department of Corrections.

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