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Opposing Alex Azar’s Nomination to HHS in The Guardian

Alex Azar, Eli Lilly

Alex Azar and Eli Lilly have opposed policies that would make healthcare more affordable for Americans. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA

As I wrote a few weeks back on these blog pages, President Trump’s nomination of Alex Azar to lead the Department of Health and Human Services will help Big Pharma continue to get away with murder; something the president says he opposes. Mr. Azar just left Eli Lilly USA earlier this year as its president. Under his tenure with Lilly, Azar vehemently opposed importing lower-cost medications from Canada among other polices to tackle high drug prices.

In my capacity as founder of Prescription Justice, I published an op-ed in The Guardian called “Alex Azar is big pharma personified. He must not become US health secretary.” A Big Pharma executive is not the right pick to get this country moving on lowering drug prices. I’m just saying…

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Saluting Veterans and Shaming Big Pharma Drug Dealers

November 11th is a day spent honoring brave Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice—serving our country in the United States Armed Forces. The bravery of these men and women is truly unparalleled, and it is for this very reason that a long history of Big Pharma taking advantage of the quite literal pain of war is nothing short of shameful.

Before 9/11, drug corporations led by Purdue Pharma had developed new pain medications — the opioids that have filled our headlines with news of rampant addiction and death.  These drug companies spent big bucks targeting the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), convincing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that restricting the use of opioids was nonsense. By 2008, the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act, which instated pain evaluations for all vets, was drafted. To push the bill, drug company lobbyists launched a “Freedom from Pain” media blitz, enlisting veterans’ organizations to campaign for the bill and get it passed.

That’s not all.

(more…)

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Big Pharma Manufactured the Opioid Crisis and High Drug Prices; Safe Drug Importation Not to Blame

Yesterday, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which hopefully will jumpstart the nation’s response to get more treatment to addicts, including medications that can save them from overdose, and empower law enforcement to more successfully pursue and stop illegal (and even legal) distribution of opioids that have killed hundreds of thousands. This is NOT the time to ease up on the administration or Congress regarding the public health crisis of high drug prices or to let Big Pharma use it as a pretext to curtail access to more affordable, imported (non-opioid) medication. Just last week we wrote about Trump saying for a second time that drug companies were getting away with murder because of drug prices. He should have added for drug dealing as well.

As I wrote in The Hill back in June, Big Pharma is not only responsible for high drug prices but also for causing opioid abuse and death in America. They want to use a crackdown on illegal opioid imports to stop safe drug importation, which is a lifeline for millions of Americans who cannot afford the outrageous prices the drug industry controls here at home.

The drug companies’ front groups are supporting legislation called the Synthetics Trafficking Opioid Prevent Act (STOP). STOP’s goal is to cease illegal imports of fentanyl, a drug sold lawfully in the U.S., which is often used as an ingredient to make opioid-based street drugs and even counterfeit versions of prescription narcotics. Well, I support that idea, too! Who wouldn’t? Here’s the problem with the bill: That same legislation could also impede Americans who import real, non-opioid, non-controlled medication for their own use because they can’t afford it here!

Pharma’s death machine has no boundaries. Op-eds continue to infest the Internet and daily newspapers warning that legalizing imports of lower-cost medication from Canada will worsen the opioid crisis. Most that I’ve read are written by paid lobbyists, consultants, or employees of drug companies.

One example is an op-ed written by Mary Bono, former Congresswoman from California and currently a lobbyist with Faegre Baker Daniels, who is also an advisor to the pharma-funded Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP). Her piece is called “Applying Lessons of “fake news” to Online Pharmacies, Drug Importation Polices.” That op-ed came on the heels of my blog post: “Would Big Pharma Create Fake News to Scare Americans Away from Online Pharmacies Abroad?”

This would all be funny if it wasn’t so horribly sad.

Is Mary Bono a lobbyist for Pharma? According to Open Secrets, ASOP has spent $420,000 this year lobbying on importation and online pharmacies alone. I believe that Ms. Bono genuinely wants to stop dangerous illegal sales of prescription narcotics and even regular drugs – but to mix it all in with a narrative that perpetuates that ALL international online pharmacies are dangerous is wrong. You’ll notice on the Open Secrets page that the executive director of ASOP, Libby Baney, is a principal at Faegre Baker Daniels and a lobbyist.

Safe international online pharmacies help Americans afford medication to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, depression, heart disease and many other conditions. They require valid prescriptions, meet high standards of pharmacy practice, and have nothing to do with the opioid crisis. PharmacyChecker explicitly bans any website from our Verification Program that sells prescription opioids to patients in the U.S., or any controlled medication, as defined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The tragedy of hundreds of thousands of deaths by opioid abuse and overdose in America is nothing short of disgraceful. It’s well-known that the pharmaceutical industry’s commercial greed bears much responsibility. One example is that the pharmaceutical industry pushed for looser prescribing rules to expand opioid sales to people who don’t really need them. More recently, investigative reporting showed that Pharma lobbied for the successful passage of legislation to prevent the DEA from going after companies violating opioid drug distribution laws. This has led to unnecessary deaths, and yet we continue to let Big Pharma sweep the truth under the rug.

The FDA has never reported a death due to ordering medication from an international online pharmacy that required valid prescription. Never. Juxtapose that with the 200,000 who have died from opioids. Also, the FDA notes that 125,000 Americans have died because they have not taken prescribed medication. Why haven’t they? Often because they can’t afford it. Based on Commonwealth Fund surveys, we’ve estimated about 45 million didn’t fill a prescription because of cost in 2016.

I’ve been saying for years now that the pharmaceutical industry is misleading the public and Congress on prescription drug importation in a major way. So, I’ll say it again: the opioid crisis should not be a pretext to make it harder for Americans to afford non-opioid drugs internationally.

Enough.

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