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Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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Electronic Frontier Foundation Calls Out Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, NABP, Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, and LegitScript for Internet Censorship

Americans Can't Afford It.

Americans Can’t Afford It.

Last week, an article was published by Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, under the appropriate title, “How Big Pharma’s Shadow Regulation Censors the Internet.” Basically, Jeremy explains that due to drug company money and political influence in the United States, there are activities going on both in plain view and behind the scenes that are meant to curtail and even end access by Americans to lower cost medications being sold on the Internet.

I’ve been writing about this – albeit in less Internet policy, theoretical terms –  for years and testified before and warned Congress in 2013 on this issue. About a month ago, I published an article on Circle ID, a source of news and opinion about Internet policy and governance, describing the actions of drug companies to dominate the Internet. My hope was to reach people just like Jeremy Malcolm at organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1990 to defend civil liberties in the digital world. They champion “user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.” Read about its awesome work and history here(more…)

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Big Pharma, Big Drug Dealers

Oxycontin tablets crushed into powder for snorting

Oxycontin tablets crushed into powder for snorting
Image by 51fifty, Wikimedia

The prescription narcotic epidemic in America is banging on our national consciousness, almost as loudly as the issue of skyrocketing drug prices. The pharmaceutical industry and its front groups have tried in the past to conflate safe international online pharmacies with the illegal and dangerous online sale of controlled drugs, including prescription narcotics, and I’ve called them out over the years. Safe international online pharmacies do not sell prescription narcotics at all. But, unlike safe international online pharmacies, which sell non controlled medications at much lower prices, is Big Pharma pushing narcotics and fueling drug addiction in America? Apparently, yes.

As reported in The Fix, a documentary film called “Prescription Thugs” explores the connection between the pharmaceutical industry, the power it wields in Congress, and the painkiller addiction epidemic. It is the story of people who were introduced to painkillers when their doctors prescribed them, only to find themselves addicted. For years, the industry was making a certain formulation of the popular prescription opiate OxyContin that was easily abused by addicts and therefore driving astronomical sales. When a new form of the drug made it harder to crush and therefore inject intravenously, its sales tanked by 80%. You can view the film’s trailer at http://www.prescriptionthugs.com/.

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Fewer Americans Importing Medications in 2016: Good or Bad? Oh, and Happy New Year!

Times Squaer Crowd New Year's Eve
As we move out of 2015 and into 2016 with a strong wave of hostility rising throughout the country about high drug prices, what I’m about to report may seem incongruous. Fewer Americans seem to be buying lower cost medications from other countries. For the past few years, largely based on data from the CDC in 2013, I’ve published the number five million as the approximate number of Americans who, due to high drug prices, import medication annually for personal use. But a newer CDC report published in 2015 (that I recently came across) puts that number closer to four million, a 20% decrease.

If drug prices are going up, and Americans are fed up with prescription costs, wouldn’t you expect more people to be buying lower cost medications from outside the country? With fewer Americans buying medication internationally, potentially one million, how many of them are simply not taking prescribed medication? Are our most trusted authorities scaring Americans away from obtaining lower cost medications from other countries, or has affordable access improved over the past few years?

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Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies – Using Deception to Keep You Paying More

A paid “news release” this week by the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) and LegitScript and widely disseminated by PR Newswire’s MultiView – deceitfully and incorrectly associated PharmacyChecker.com with a federal indictment involving the wholesale operations of a Canadian company. [UPDATE: After PR Newswire was informed by our attorneys of the libelous nature of the ASOP/LegitScript news release, PR Newswire removed it. The release had appeared at http://www.multivu.com/players/English/7602051-asop-doj-indictment-prescription-drugs/ ]

A former consultant to PharmacyChecker.com was, unfortunately, swept up in this indictment for an action having nothing to do with his work with PharmacyChecker.com (see our posting about the indictment) [UPDATE: The charges against this individual were dismissed on October 20].

But even though PharmacyChecker, nor any of its executives or employees, are the subject of the recent indictment or even mentioned in it, ASOP and LegitScript, who we see as sharks for Big Pharma and Big Pharmacy, could not resist throwing a public relations party, which we believe is aimed at manipulating the media and reporters, government, and worse – consumers!  It appears that they spent a lot of money on a PR firm, ECI Communications, to put together and disseminate lies about PharmacyChecker.com and misleading information about international online pharmacies.

Want proof? After reading ASOP and LegitScript’s deceitfully misleading news release, a writer at the publication Medicine Marketing & Media was apparently duped into writing on Wednesday that PharmacyChecker was being indicted! After we contacted that publication about the inaccuracy, we were swiftly given an apology, the article was corrected, and the following statement posted: “CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed PharmacyChecker.com as a defendant. PharmacyChecker.com is not a defendant in the case.

A renowned expert in First Amendment Law considers the news release “libelous” and ASOP, LegitScript, and ECI have been asked to take it down.  PR Newswire has also been asked to remove it, as it appears to violate PR Newswire’s own guidelines regarding libelous content and this certainly doesn’t help their existing reputation for distributing “low quality content.”  However,  perhaps due to the enormous funding behind these groups, they have yet to make any attempt to correct the situation. We’ll see how much they care about the truth by their actions.

It’s important to keep in mind who these groups are.  ASOP’s members and funders include large pharmaceutical companies and the National Association of Chain Drugstores. To protect their bottom lines, these companies and ASOP lobby congress and federal agencies, such as the FDA, to try to curtail your access to much more affordable and safe medication from outside the U.S. In fact, ASOP is actually located in the offices of the government relations and communications consulting firm FraegreBD, where ASOPs executive director, also happens to be a Vice President. And ECI Communications is a PR firm which does extensive business for U.S. pharmaceutical companies.  Of course LegitScript.com happens to be a founding member of ASOP. Can we trust LegitScript.com or ASOP? Well, you already know who ASOP works for, right? On the other hand, much of LegitScript.com’s income is from a contract with the FDA for $5.2 million. That’s not bad in and of itself but, if that money is being used to spread misinformation to U.S. consumers and lobby congress and maybe even the FDA itself, then that stinks.

The truth is that American consumers are buying medication from outside the U.S., five million of them each year, because many of them can’t afford prices in the U.S. Since 2003, PharmacyChecker.com has been working hard to publish information that helps Americans find safe and affordable medication from these pharmacies. Yet it seems the only safe online pharmacy to ASOP is one that is approved by LegitScript.com, which in turn believes that every pharmacy outside the U.S. that sells into the U.S. including licensed pharmacies in Canada, are not “legitimate” or are “rogue.”

ASOP’s and LegitScript’s vision of “legitimacy” is a nightmare for Americans! Thirty-five million Americans don’t fill a script each year because of cost. A safe online pharmacy is not safe for a consumer who can’t afford the medications it sells. ASOP, LegitScript, the NABP, FDA, etc., can’t wish away the fact that safe international online pharmacies are a lifeline for many American consumers. Scaring these Americans away from safe pharmacy options with misleading and false  information means that more Americans will go without their prescribed medications. There is nothing “safe” or “legit” about that.

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Counterfeit drug or foreign, safe, effective and affordable medication; what’s the difference according to ABC News 20/20?

A story last Friday on ABC News’s 20/20 featured the topic of counterfeit drugs, their dangers and where they’re being sold. The story was helpful in educating the public about the threat of counterfeit drugs but it really seemed to play along with a misleading narrative, one propagated by the drug companies, that foreign medications are the same as counterfeit drugs. I’ve debunked this nonsense before: affordable and safe medications sold from foreign pharmacies are not the same as counterfeit drugs. 

Also, as part of its feature on counterfeits, ABC’s website has a section called “How to Order Prescription Drugs Safely Online” that looks to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) for useful consumer information.  ASOP is financed and operated by big corporate pharmaceutical interests that oppose personal drug importation from safe online pharmacies. If you have great health insurance that covers all of your medications, or lots of money to cover exceedingly high out of pocket prescription drug costs, then the recommendations of ASOP might work for you because they recommend big U.S. chain pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, which charge the world’s highest prices for medication. Many other Americans actually NEED safe international online pharmacies, which ASOP would call unapproved or even “rogue.”

It its story, ABC investigative journalists tracked down people selling prescription medications on the street, from push carts, even in clothing stores – usually in relatively poor neighborhoods. Eventually those people were arrested, all for the viewing audience to see. According to the federal agents involved, some of the medications seized were counterfeit and people did not have to provide a prescription to buy prescription drugs. The story was very troubling. Indeed, it was a powerful indictment of our society, one in which drug prices are so outrageously high that people, such as undocumented immigrants without health insurance, look to street peddlers to find affordable medication.

ABC also covered what are known as “Storefront” pharmacies, which are located throughout the country, often in strip malls, where people go to buy medications from pharmacies in other countries by mail order. These storefronts usually have titles that include the words “Canada,” or “Canadian,” and “Drugs,” “meds,” “medicine,” “Rx,” etc., which indicate that a person can acquire medicine from Canada. ABC wanted to highlight that the medications ordered at these places often do not come from Canadian pharmacies but from other countries. ABC’s implication is that people are being misled. On the other hand, when watching the show, it appeared that storefront personnel did communicate that the orders would not come from Canada so I’m not clear on what’s going on here. We wrote a piece about online pharmacies related to this issue: “So You Want to Buy Cheap Medicine from an Actual Canadian Pharmacy. Here’s the Deal.”

We do not verify storefronts but we believe that some of them are essentially people and companies that help Americans place prescription drug orders from foreign pharmacies that require a valid prescription. In fact, through ABC’s mystery shopping (meaning purchasing prescription drugs from storefronts) they were required to submit valid prescriptions and did so. A few weeks later the journalists received four medications, two of them brand, Viagra and Zocor, coming from Singapore and the UK, and two generics, tadalafil (the brand version known as Cialis) and finasteride (the brand version known as Propecia), both Indian drug products.

The story made it seem as if the two generics were either substandard or counterfeit, as it was noted they contained “impurities” or “unknown ingredients”. What ABC News did not communicate is that the so-called “impurities” or “unknown ingredients” might be acceptable inactive ingredients, excipients, etc., just different from those in the brand versions sold in the U.S. This is normal: generic drugs in the U.S. often have different inactive ingredients from their brand name counterparts. When the Indian generics were chemically tested, ABC showed the results as “fail” but didn’t tell you that generics sold in U.S. pharmacies would likely have failed as well if given that same test because they are not the exact same as the brand in terms of inactive ingredients.

Also, when ABC reported that most of the medicines did not meet FDA standards, it didn’t explain that simply having a label designed for a different country automatically means it does not meet FDA standards, regardless of the medication’s actual safety. In short, foreign sourced medications are often safe and effective products, approved for sale in the countries from which they are dispensed – but not counterfeit or substandard.

It’s important to note that the generics received by the journalists came from India, and, as we’ve written about before, India does have more problems with low quality and counterfeit drugs than in the U.S. or other rich countries. At the same time, India is the largest source of generic medications, exporting across the globe to wealthy, middle income and poor countries. In fact, 40% of generics sold in U.S. pharmacies are from India.  It’s well known that the top Indian drug companies excel at making high quality, safe and effective prescription medications, but even among them problems exist, too.

On a closing note about ABC’s coverage of counterfeit drugs, I encourage our readers to look at the consumer comments section on ABC’s website.  People don’t believe the big drug company propaganda, or even our trusted regulatory authorities like the FDA. That bothers me because the FDA is right that there are rogue pharmacy operators out there, often online, but they’re wrong not to acknowledge the relative safety and public health benefits of safe international online pharmacies. Hopefully ABC will really investigate

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