“Abstract pills” by Robson – Flickr
We issued a press release yesterday about our new drug price savings analysis, which shows that consumers can save 84% on average among a basket of 10 popular branded maintenance medications if purchased from verified international online pharmacies instead of local U.S. pharmacies. Many of the savings are over 90%! The greatest savings is 94% for the acid-blocking drug Nexium ($946.50 in the U.S. vs. $53.09 online for a three month supply of 40 mg pills) and the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor ($803.89 vs. $51.40 – 20 mg pills). The greatest dollar savings is for the antipsychotic drug Abilify ($3,178.99 vs. $237.05 – 10 mg pills). The average annual savings per drug is $3,479. Despite this, last month, the U.S. FDA announced a “new rule” regarding its expanded authority to destroy personally imported medicine under Section 708 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety Act of 2012. Several members of congress have raised concern that FDA’s rules may impede access to affordable medication. 
The FDA says that its new regulation is meant to protect patients from unsafe medications and counterfeit drugs but the agency doesn’t seem to say how they will distinguish safe from potentially unsafe personal drug imports.
For the full press release, click here.
Prices for a 3-month supply of top-selling brand name medications
||Local U.S. Pharmacy Price
||International Online Pharmacy Price*
||International Online Savings
|Advair Diskus 250/50mcg (180 doses)
|Spiriva Handihaler 18mcg
|Ventolin HFA 100mcg
|Lantus Solostar 15ml
Sources: Local pharmacy prices based on prices at chain drugstores in New York City; International online pharmacy prices based on lowest prices listed on PharmacyChecker.com. All prices obtained on September 30, 2015.
*Medications dispensed by licensed pharmacies, verified by PharmacyChecker.com, in one of the following countries Australia, Barbados, Canada, India, Mauritius, New Zealand, Turkey, Singapore, or United Kingdom.
 U.S. Senator David Vitter, “Vitter Fights to Keep Prescription Drug Prices Affordable Through Reimportation,” July 9, 2014 [press release], see [www] vitter.senate.gov/newsroom/press/vitter-fights-to-keep-prescription-drug-prices-affordablethrough-reimportation [Last accessed 9/20/14]. 38 Representative JoAnn Emerson (MO), “Food and Drug Administration Reform Act.” May 30th 2012. See [www] votesmart.org/public-statement/702416/food-and-drug-administration-reform-act-of-2012#.UxVJN-co4s9 [Last accessed 9/22/14]. Letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by Congressman Keith Ellison dated July 1st, 2014. See See [www] regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2014-N-0504-0022.
Yesterday, AARP published its latest Rx Price Watch report, which highlights generic prescription medication price changes from 2006-2013. Generic medication is considered the best avenue towards lower taxpayer and consumer drug costs. In the mid-1980s, passage of the Hatch-Waxman Act helped bring lower cost generic medication to the market faster and fueled intense price competition among generic manufacturers. The result was 1) much lower drug prices on medications that have lost their patents (often 90% lower) and 2) an exceedingly high generic penetration rate with generics comprising 85% of all medication use. AARP’s report suggests that generic drug prices continue to decrease, which is good, but at a much slower rate, “indicating that the era of consistent generic drug price decreases may be coming to an end.”
Stay calm. Generics are still usually much lower cost than the brand names and that will continue to be the case. AARP’s report notes that 2013 had the lowest average generic price decrease (4.1%) since 2006. However, AARP’s data also shows considerable fluctuation in this rate, enough to question whether or not we’re really experiencing a new normal in which generic drug prices no longer decline year after year. For example, the decreases in average generic drug prices that occurred in the prior two years, 2011 and 2012, 9.1% and 14.5%, respectively, were the highest since 2006. These numbers, however, most likely reflect what’s referred to as the “patent cliff” – a time when many patents on blockbuster brand name drugs, such as Lipitor and Plavix, lost their patents, thus allowing much lower cost generics to enter the market. As I see it, we don’t really know the future trend of generic drug prices.
Again, most generic drugs are way cheaper than their brand name counterparts and just as safe and effective. The big generic drug problem is that the cost of some generics has spiked outrageously over the past few years, sometimes beyond the reach of the American consumer. Usually when we talk about insane price increases of brand name drugs year over year the percentages are 10, 20, 30 or even 40%. But the increases for some generics have literally been in the 2000% range! One crazy example, reported by the People’s Pharmacy, showed that the cost of the antibiotic doxycycline skyrocketed from six cents ($.06) to $3.30, a 5500% increase.
In fact, directing you back to our research from November 2014, we found that even brand name versions sold in foreign pharmacies can be MUCH lower cost than the generics sold here! Please keep in mind that those same generics mentioned in our analysis may have already come down in price domestically. So before you buy from an international online pharmacy, check your local pharmacy first.
During a recent campaign appearance in front of a Tea Party crowd, as reported by ABC News, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told a mother and her sick son that high drug costs are fair because they are determined by free market forces. It appears that Mr. Santorum doesn’t understand the crisis of prescription drug prices and that the market is failing to price prescription drugs within reach for 10s of millions of Americans.
According to ABC News, “Santorum told a large Tea Party crowd here that he sympathized with the boy’s case, but he also believed in the marketplace,” and that companies wouldn’t be making the life-saving drugs if they didn’t believe they would turn a profit doing so. The former senator from Pennsylvania seemed to be lecturing the American people when he said: “People have no problem paying $900 for an iPad…but paying $900 for a drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it.” (more…)
Two years ago, ABC News ran a segment (What Would You Do?) that showed Americans going out of their way to help strangers who could not afford their medication. Actors visited local pharmacies pretending they could not afford to pay for their much-needed prescription drugs – something that happens frequently in the U.S. Some people offered to help pay for part or all of the drug orders, and one man even left the pharmacy to get money from an ATM. In addition to financial assistance, these individuals also offered words of solidarity against the outrageous costs. Karen Wenberg (real person) told the woman (actress) she was helping: “Don’t be embarrassed. You know what? Medication is so f***ing expensive. There is no reason to be embarrassed… Sometimes we just pass on the good that’s been given to us.”
As we write this, Congress is marking up a new law, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), one supported by the Obama administration that could effectively block Americans from acquiring safe and affordable medication from online pharmacies outside the U.S. As the government seeks to rein in spending, why do they want to stop consumers from getting non-tax-payer funded, affordable medication? When people go without medication, they can become sick or get sicker, putting a great burden on the health care system. To see what the government is doing, read RxRight.org’s guest post on techdirt. (more…)