Fronting for the pharmaceutical industry, The Partnership for Safe Medicines, which has a website at www.SafeMedicines.org, is an avowed foe of personal drug importation. A popular tactic of this group is mixing legitimate concerns over drug counterfeiting with unwarranted warnings about the safety of buying drugs from pharmacies in Canada and other countries. Here’s what we know about The Partnership, starting with who runs it.
Who is The Partnership for Safe Medicines?
The Partnership refers to itself in news releases as a “consumer protection group,” but its leader is an employee of the pharmaceutical industry. As noted on its website at Partnership for Safe Medicines Board of Directors (viewed 2/8/2010), the Executive Director of The Partnership for Safe Medicines is Scott A. LaGanga, who also happens to be a deputy vice-president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). PhRMA is the principal lobbying group for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. PhRMA lobbies hard against laws that could encourage personal drug importation. When Americans buy the same drugs for less overseas, pharmaceutical companies don’t make as much. We understand how The Partnership’s position protects the interests of pharmaceutical companies, but not how it protects consumers trying to obtain affordable medication. In addition to Mr. LaGanga’s leadership in both organizations, PhRMA’s Assistant Vice President, James N. Class, is also a Board Member of The Partnership for Safe Medicines.
Also on The Partnership’s Board is Thomas T. Kubic, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Security Institute or PSI Inc. As noted on its website, www.PSI-Inc.org, the members of PSI are “twenty-seven pharmaceutical manufacturers from many nations.” Not surprisingly, The Partnership for Safe Medicines and PSI are located at the same address, 8100 Boone Blvd, Vienna, VA.
Another Board Member of The Partnership for Safe Medicines is Bryan A. Liang, Ph.D, M.D., J.D. In early 2009, Bryan Liang authored an article “Searching for Safety: Addressing Search Engine, Website, and Provider Accountability for Illicit Online Drug Sales” which was quickly posted on The Partnership’s website, SafeMedicines.org. In a Letter to the Editor of the journal which published Dr. Liang’s article, we pointed out that the Liang article misleads the reader to believe that purchasing a drug from a pharmacy anywhere other than in the United States imperils their safety and that the article grossly mischaracterizes PharmacyChecker.com along the way. Perhaps most importantly, we exposed the fact that Bryan Liang failed to disclose his association with The Partnership in the article. At the time it was published, Bryan Liang was not only a Board Member of The Partnership but was also its Vice President and Director. For Bryan Liang to have omitted the fact from a supposedly scholarly article that he was employed by an organization supported by the pharmaceutical industry and openly opposed to personal drug importation clearly seems a charade.
Is There Really “No Safe Country for Drug Importation?”
One of SafeMedicines.org claims is that there is no “safe” country outside the U.S. from which Americans can buy prescription drugs, even Canada. They write:
“With talks about drug importation continuing in Congress, drug importation supporters argue that if the United States allows importation only from ‘safe countries,’ such as Canada and the United Kingdom, than most of drug safety concerns would be eliminated. However, when it comes to drug importation, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ country”. (Source: No Such Thing as a “Safe Country” for Drug Importation, SafeMedicines.org)
They back up this claim by pointing to a counterfeit drug bust in Montreal, in which 15,000 pills of fake Viagra were discovered and were being sold in Canada. It’s a fallacy, however, to suggest that because this happened the drugs aren’t safe in Canada. For instance, 38,000 pills of fake Viagra were discovered in New York City during an investigation of a counterfeit drug ring (see ABC News). And, as reported on CBS News in 2002, Tim Fagan, a teenager recovering from a liver transplant, bought counterfeit Epogen from his local CVS and was sick for months (see CBS News). In fact, the investigation in that story showed the complexity of the US drug distribution system and how open it is to counterfeit medication. Does The Partnership’s “no safe country” mantra include the United States? Of course not.
Still, overall, Americans should feel relatively safe buying drugs at their local pharmacies. And, if they buy prescription drugs from licensed pharmacies in the UK, Canada and many other countries, then they may be technically breaking the law, but can feel equally safe, while saving money. The problem of counterfeit drugs needs to be tackled, but it should not be misused by The Partnership for Safe Medicines to falsely scare Americans from buying medication they need. Unfortunately, what SafeMedicines.org is doing is not novel. Its scare tactics are reminiscent of those used by another PhRMA-supported group called The Seniors Coalition. A few years ago, Representative Rosa L. DeLauro and former Congressman, now Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel criticized that group for running ads around the country designed to scare seniors and mislead the public about the safety of importing brand name drugs from other countries.Tagged with: Bryan Liang, Counterfeit Drugs, Partnership for Safe Medicines, personal drug importation, phrma, safemedicines, SafeMedicines.org, Scot Laganga