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Online Pharmacies Did Not Fuel the Opioid Crisis

Fuel Opioid CrisisThe role of the Internet as a channel to obtain and misuse prescription narcotics is tiny.

A report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blamed the Internet for 0.1% (one tenth of 1%) of all narcotic abuse. That data was from 2015. The latest such report, which is called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health has new data from 2017 that doesn’t even have a category for the Internet.

It’s hard to tell if the new number is lower or higher than 0.1%. While 0.1% appears to be statistically insignificant, people have died buying narcotic prescription drugs online and all channels of abuse need to be addressed.

Drug Companies Want to Hide Lower Drug Prices from Americans

On the other hand, drug companies are lobbying Congress to crackdown on Internet companies about opioids, but what they really want is for Americans to stop using the Internet to access lower prescription drug prices from Canada and other countries. In fact, drug giant Eli Lilly wants to censor the Internet by removing Canadian online pharmacies from Google search results in the U.S. Let’s address opioid sales online with a scalpel, not a sledge hammer. More importantly, let’s put resources into treatment and use law enforcement where it’s most needed.

According to the government’s survey, of the 11.1 million people who misused prescription opioids, here’s how they obtained them: 53.1% from a friend or relative; 36.6% from a doctor’s prescription; 5.7% from a drug dealer; and 4.6% some other way.

Channels of Obtaining Prescription Opioids for Misuse

I don’t know why SAMHSA removed the Internet as a category but believe there are two possible answers:

One, the internet channel was statistically insignificant.

Two, the incredibly small percentage, 0.1%, did not fit the agenda of the pharmaceutical industry to blame the Internet for illegally obtained prescription narcotics.

The data showing that only 0.1% of Americans who abuse opioids get them online doesn’t justify the major crackdown on the Internet desired by the pharmaceutical industry.

Yes, drug companies can lobby Congress and federal agencies to have questions removed and added to research on matters that affect them. The FDA has never reported a person seriously sickened or killed by buying medicine internationally from an online pharmacy that requires a prescription. The safest international online pharmacies don’t sell opioid medicine or any controlled drugs.

What does the category “some other way” account for according to SAMHSA?

Some other way includes write-in responses not already listed in this table or responses with insufficient information that could allow them to be placed in another category.”

That means they didn’t ask about the Internet, but people may have written it in. I’ll update this post when I find out more about it.

Consumer Advocacy

As drug companies continue to pressure Congress about stopping personal drug importation by censoring the Internet, it’s important for consumer advocates to stay on top of this data. As I wrote last week, if you look closely, the law, ironically, defends personal drug importation – even if it’s technically illegal.

Let’s beat the opioid crisis without stopping people from safe personal drug importation of non-opioid, non-controlled products.

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Did Instagram Shut Down our Account as Part of its Crackdown on Opioid Drugs: Protecting Patients or Big Pharma Censorship of Lower Drug Prices?

Instagram shut down our account

The pharmaceutical industry, generally, does not like our company. As an extension of that feeling, the FDA doesn’t love us either. Basically, we are in Big Pharma’s crosshairs because the information we provide helps people find more affordable medicines from other countries and import it for personal use.

But is that a reason for Instagram to shutdown our account!? That action is nothing less than corporate-inspired, government-encouraged censorship. Mike Masnick of TechDirt refers to this as the soft underbelly of Internet censorship. Also, please read this background from the Electronic Frontier Foundation calling out Big Pharma on this issue.

Congress and the FDA are banging on the door of Facebook, Google, Instagram, etc. about stopping people from selling opioids on their platforms. We can debate until the cows come home about what content should be self-censored — meaning removed without a court order — but please hear me out on why Instagram’s dissing PharmacyChecker doesn’t even come close to acceptable and let us know if you agree or disagree.

First of all, PharmacyChecker.com does not sell or facilitate the sale of medication. Medications are not purchased on our site and we have no role in the processing of prescription orders. We verify credentials and publish information about online pharmacies and drug prices. That information is globally accessible on the Internet.

By the way, our Verification Program bans online pharmacies that ship controlled drugs of any kind into the U.S. This includes not only prescription opioids, but also Valium, Xanax, and Adderall. We’re with the DEA on strict controls and highly attuned to and concerned about the opioid crisis. I have friends who view our policy as too conservative. You get the picture.

We agree with cracking down against dealers of opioids, with Fentanyl being the greatest concern. On the other hand, we have seen Pharma and the government use a crackdown against addictive prescription drug sales online to veer into a crackdown against imports from Canada of decidedly regular meds that treat asthma, diabetes, depression, high cholesterol and blood pressure, etc.

We launched PharmacyChecker in 2003 to help people searching the Internet for lower medicine prices from real pharmacies, domestic and international. Our verification program is run by a licensed PharmD from Massachusetts, Dr. Shivam Patel. Pharmacies listed in our program must require valid prescriptions, sell only personal-use quantities, have a pharmacy license, and cannot sell controlled drugs of any kind internationally, into the U.S.

Feel free to read about our extensive protocols for verifying international online pharmacies.

In 2012, I was asked to write a chapter in a book called Hacking Politics, which is now published as an anthology about the battle to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act. My chapter was called the “Online Pharmacy Story.” In short, due to lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, SOPA contained language that would have potentially made PharmacyChecker.com illegal at a maximum; at minimum, it would have increased our intermediary liability exposure. I strongly opposed it. And yet we see big industries moving SOPA by a thousand cuts.

I believe there’s some chance that Instagram dissed our account accidentally, based on a sweep of sites having to do with drugs, medicines, pharmacies, etc. But there’s also a small chance that Pharma’s influence led to the direct shutdown of our account as a slap in the face to PharmacyChecker advocacy efforts. I’m constantly criticizing Pharma’s propaganda about importation and online pharmacies our blog, in the New York Times, RightsCon, and directly to members of Congress in my testimony.

In fact, last year I caught PhRMA, meaning the big pharma trade association, placing Google ads using our name to dissuade people against importation of lower-cost medicines. As I wrote in our blog, that was a badge of honor but kind of disconcerting as well.

Late last month, the FDA called Instagram, Google, Reddit, and many others, to what was called the FDA Opioid Online Summit. I blogged about it beforehand mostly to note that groups funded by Pharma were well represented, ones that focus on opposing importation of lower-cost medicines and use the opioid crisis for that goal. Initially, the summit was billed as a public event, but it turns out that journalists were locked out and those that covered the public part did conclude that opioids were not the sole target, but cheaper meds were open season, too.

We want our Instagram account reinstated on principle, yet no one has responded to our multiple attempts at contacting Instagram’s customer support.

Anyone willing to weigh in on this?

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Big Pharma Playbook on Internet Pharmacies Exposed

Big Pharma Blocks Online AccessCentral to Big Pharma’s lobbying efforts is relying on drug company-funded “nonprofit” groups to sanitize their goals under the veneer of charity. Investigative reporting in Tarbell, a media organization founded by healthcare activist Wendell Potter, shows that drug companies, namely Eli Lilly, successfully lobbied the Obama administration to make Internet companies embrace policies that curtail online access to affordable medication.

These pharma-funded nonprofits engage fellow industry-tied patient groups, the media and people, promoting the idea that rogue online pharmacies and safe international online pharmacies are the same thing. Their message: don’t buy lower-cost medications online from other countries because it’s too dangerous.

That message is an outright lie.

(more…)

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