If you have been watching the news, you’ve likely heard the current administration’s support for affordable healthcare, lower prescription drugs costs, and less red tape around the FDA’s drug approval process. These platform statements are powerful to a country where prescription drug costs are significant. In fact, according to an AARP report from 2015, the price of prescriptions per household amount to more than the average family’s income per year. To many eager constituents, these campaign promises create the illusion of a future of financial stability and an adequate, cost-effective healthcare system that treats people as patients instead of dollar signs. Before we pop the champagne, we need to look at both the current system we are proposing to fix and the actions that the government has already taken against these its original statements.
The Trump administration points the finger at the FDA’s current drug approval process as a major cause for high drug prices. Critics of the existing approval process believe it to be slow, full of unnecessary procedures, and a hindrance to the approval of potentially life-saving drugs. Notice, I said potentially.
Here is where things get tricky. If we speed up the approval process, more prescription drugs could be approved to treat the same condition, thereby destroying current drug monopolies. As we all learned in Econ.101, the more products available in the same space results in less demand and lower prices. This sounds perfect until we look at our current “slow” approval process and its results.
In September 2004, the FDA approved the narcotic painkiller, Palladone. It was released by manufacturer Purdue Pharma (also the manufacturer of the prescription opioid OxyContin) in February 2005. Six months later, Palladone was effectively removed from the market after it was discovered that high levels of the drug could slow or stop breathing, and that combined with alcohol, the drug could prove fatal to patients. In 2010, the anticoagulant Pradaxa was approved by the FDA, and in its first 5 years, it was sold on the market without an antidote for its blood-thinning effects. During this five-year span, thousands of patients filed claims citing the adverse side effects caused by the blood thinner, which included cases of severe bleeding and death.
The FDA’s approval process is not perfect. There are a number of FDA-approved drugs that have to be later recalled and removed from the market, like Palladone, or stamped with a black box warning label, like Pradaxa due to its harmful side effects. We know that the FDA’s process needs improvements, but it is also clear from these examples that a speedier system is not the answer. If we quicken the pace on prescription drug approval, how many more dangerous legal drugs will hit the market? We can only speculate how many more injuries and deaths could result from doctor-prescribed medications if the drug approval process is accelerated. As a consumer, you have to ask if the reward is worth the obvious risk.
Critics of an easier approval process say there are other methods to lower drug prices and create competition in the industry while maintaining quality of pharmaceuticals. In February 2017, Senator Bernie Sanders and several other Democratic senators proposed a bill to import prescription drugs from Canada. Canadians currently pay significantly less than Americans for the same prescription drugs. A good example of this is the cancer drug Lomustine which sells in Canada for 97% less than in America.
Unfortunately, Sen. Sanders’ bill and others like it proposed previously have been criticized for potentially undermining decades of American drug safety policy. As Doug Schoen, a critic of another drug importation bill proposed by Senators McCain and Klobuchar, put it, “Imported prescription drugs are neither safe nor dependable. Foreign drug makers are notorious for producing untested counterfeit drugs, even in unsterile conditions…” First of all, this is simply untrue. Secondly, and more pressingly, if you look at Sen. Sanders’ bill, it requires that these imported medications “be purchased from an FDA-certified foreign seller and must have the same active ingredient, route of administration and strength as drugs approved in the United States.”
Valid options are available to protect the health and well being of American citizens while providing necessities like medication at reasonable prices, and our nation’s leaders are ignoring them. As legislators and politicians debate, many Americans are turning to online pharmacies and sites like PharmacyChecker.com to find better deals when purchasing medically necessary prescription drugs that would otherwise cost a small fortune. PharmacyChecker.com is the only independent company that both verifies online pharmacies to ensure safety when seeking affordable medications online and compares prices of prescription drugs sold in these online pharmacies abroad. We have seen medical expenses top the list of reasons for personal bankruptcies in America, and yet our government has done little to fix the issues in our healthcare system. For years, Americans have taken the matter into their own hands.
We aren’t talking about the rising price of iPhones here; we are talking about life-saving treatments and medications that Americans need to live. Until the administration views its constituents as the number one priority over corporations, American citizens will have to fight for their patient rights to decent and affordable healthcare, and they’ll have to fight to find alternative methods for buying safe and effective prescription medications.
Caitlin Hoff is a Health & Safety Investigator for ConsumerSafety.org. She strives to help people make smart decisions affecting their personal health and that of their families. Writing articles about consumer dangers, Ms. Hoff fights for consumers’ rights against those seeking to diminish them.
GUEST OPINIONS: THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THIS CONTRIBUTOR ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF PHARMACYCHECKER.