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Do Board Members of PhRMA Support Importing Unapproved Medication?

Since Americans started importing medications for personal use in larger numbers at the beginning of the last decade, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Big Pharma, has engaged in media and government relations scare tactics to try and stop them.  Apparently, when it comes to foreign versions of the new FDA-Approved Emflaza, which treats Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, one board member of PhRMA supports importation!

Last week, I wrote about the decision of drug company Marathon Pharmaceuticals to postpone selling Emflaza over pricing concerns and how the issue shines a bright light on the benefits of personal drug importation. To summarize: some folks are outraged because Emflaza (deflazacort) was launched at a price of $89,000 for a one year supply. This seems insane when foreign versions of deflazacort, which cost 1% that amount (less than $1000), are already imported for personal use.

PhRMA is trying to distance itself from Marathon, just like it did with Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turning Pharmaceuticals, when the price of Daraprim jumped from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight. The CEO of Marathon, Jeff Aronin, however, sits on PhRMA’s Board of Directors! Last week, John Carroll of Endpoints News predicted last week that Aronin might be dropped. As of today, he’s still there.

Mr. Aronin wrote a letter to the Duchenne community that fully acknowledged American kids were already being treated with an unapproved foreign version of deflazacort. In his words: “As we all know, deflazacort was being used without FDA approval — and without ever having been approved anywhere in the world for Duchenne — by a very small group of patients (roughly 7 to 9 percent) in the Duchenne community who imported it from overseas.”

But does he support it? I mean, after all, the “score” for Marathon is that once it’s available for sale in the U.S., it will be purchased here. At least for the time being, this PhRMA board member does support it and seems to have no concern whatsoever whether the foreign version is safe and effective, not should he, since, like other medications, it was approved for safety and efficacy elsewhere. In noting that Marathon will “pause our commercialization” of Emflaza,” maintain its Expanded Access Patient Assistance Program, Aronin also state: “Patients currently receiving deflazacort from other sources may continue to have that option.” Damn right.

Is it hypocritical of PhRMA to diss Marathon? After all, brand drug companies jacked prices 130 times the inflation rate in 2015. Forty-five million Americans didn’t fill a prescription in 2016 due to cost. PhRMA will continue its practice of legal bribery and unleash a new, shiny PR campaign about life sciences and innovation — to prevent legislative and regulatory reforms that would lower drug prices. It’s going to take an unpredictable, unexpected populist wave of American anger at drug companies to bring their house down. In the meantime, maybe the people will take a hint from one PhRMA board member and import unapproved and lower cost medications.

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How to Afford EpiPen with a Safe International Online Pharmacy

The price of the lifesaving injection Epinephrine, which is prescribed for people with serious allergies, is out of control, surging by 480% . . The lowest price for two injections at a PharmacyChecker.com-approved online pharmacy is just over $200.

By Intropin (Own work), Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons [(CC BY 3.0)]

The price of the life-saving injection epinephrine, which is prescribed for people with serious allergies, is out of control, surging by 480% since 2009, CBS News reports. But American parents are actually choosing to forgo buying it because of the cost. Enough! For EpiPen Jr, the brand usually prescribed to kids, the lowest price U.S. option found on GoodRx is $614 for a package of two. The lowest price for two injections at a PharmacyChecker.com-approved online pharmacy is just over $200. That means a potential $400 – 66% – savings. Much more than the numbers: for some parents this is the difference between buying or not buying a medication that can save their kid’s life.

I’m a parent and this makes me sick and angry. But what will doubly disgust me today is if I read some Pharma-funded bull about unsafe medication in other countries that might scare a parent away from lower cost Epinephrine. This is life and death for kids. Only the truth is acceptable. The EpiPen Jr is marketed by generic drug giant Mylan in the U.S. But lower cost options internationally are either manufactured or licensed by Pfizer, the drug’s innovator, which should take the wind out of the sails of bogus arguments about “foreign drugs.”

 

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Nation’s Largest PBM Using Anti-Big Pharma Language in New Report Showing Brand Drug Prices Double

Pills and Money

Each week I try to come up with a new and compelling blog post to discuss issues involving drug prices and problems Americans are having affording medications. I often find myself resoundingly critical of the pharmaceutical industry and this week I was intrigued but curiously put off to be joined by a pharmacy corporation that made over $100 billion last year.

Express Scripts, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit manager, reported that brand name drugs in the U.S. cost 98.2% (about twice) more on average today than they did in 2011. Last year, brand name drug prices were up 16%. As I read in the Chicago Tribune, Express Scripts used hostile, downright anti-big pharma (and pharmacy) language blaming “opportunistic manufacturers” and “scheming pharmacies.” Rising drug prices of this magnitude are no laughing matter as cash-strapped Americans bear the brunt of these increases, either in higher insurance premiums, co-payments, co-insurance and full cash prices for uninsured (still almost 30 million Americans), or when plans don’t cover certain drugs.

But it is a little funny to hear Express Scripts go after Big Pharma using the rhetoric of greed. After all, PBMs, particularly Express Scripts, are often criticized for their lack of drug pricing transparency and profit-seeking practices, kind of like drug companies and big pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS.

While the focus of Express Scripts’ ire is on brand name drug prices, most of the prescription sales it administers and profits from are generics. On that note, buying generic medication without using your insurance’s PBM is often less expensive than your co-payments. But don’t expect Express Scripts to tell you that.

So that Express Scripts doesn’t feel singled out, we’ve reported on the antics of Big Pharmacy before, including Express Scripts’ biggest competitor. PharmacyChecker CEO Tod Cooperman, MD, was on Fox and Friends not so long ago discussing an investigation of CVS Caremark in which the company was accused of price gouging. The allegation: by not informing its customers that the cash price using CVS’ own discount card program would be lower than co-payments using PBMs, such as CVS Caremark or Express Scripts, hundreds of thousands of customers were overcharged.

On that note: the nuts and bolts message is DON’T BE SHY and ask for the lowest possible price at your local pharmacy.

In defense of Express Scripts, and even CVS Caremark, PBMs and large pharmacy corporations do not yield profit margins even close to those of the biggest drug companies. Furthermore, the pharmacy corporate giant, Express Scripts, is right: the blame for ever increasing drug prices falls on opportunistic manufacturers and scheming pharmacies.

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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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Does Criticizing Big Pharma Actually Help Bring Down Drug Prices? Is Real Change Possible?

Pills with Twenty Dollar Bills

Photo by Chris Potter

Unfortunately, public scrutiny about high drug prices doesn’t usually lead to legislative fixes, such as passing legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and expand the practice of safe personal drug importation so more consumers access lower prices from foreign pharmacies. On the other hand, a New York Times article – “Even Talking About Reducing Drug Prices Can Reduce Drug Prices” – suggests, well, that “talking about” drug prices can reduce them, because pharma executives get scared that if they don’t moderate drug prices, more permanent and progressive fixes will finally happen.

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