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Helping Americans Get The Truth About Prescription Drug Savings
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Want to go to jail for illegal drug importation? Here’s how…

People buying medications to fill prescriptions in Canada or other countries because prices are too high domestically don’t get prosecuted for it. But people who import drugs illegally and resell them—especially controlled drugs, like prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines— get busted and go to jail for a pretty long time. Even seemingly small-time drug dealers.

As reported in Madawaska, Maine’s local news WABI5, Tristan Nelson was sentenced to a year and a half behind bars for illegally importing 950 pills of Ritalin (an amphetamine) and 450 pills of Xanax (a benzodiazepine) from the Philippines with intent to sell.

Of note is that neither of the medications was a prescription opioid, which is the highest enforcement priority of the U.S. FDA. Addiction to non-opioid controlled drugs, however, is also a public health problem, and clearly law enforcement takes illegal imports of them seriously.

The short story reported in WABI5 simply noted: “Nelson admitted to investigators he ordered the pills and planned to sell them.” It did not say how he ordered them, such as from a rogue online pharmacy, but perhaps I’ll find his court documents later this month to find out more.

Rogue online pharmacies selling controlled drugs for import, and domestic drug dealing, menace the Internet. But according to government data, they are not a major factor in the nation’s crisis with drug addiction and overdose.

FDA enforcement actions leading to prosecution, fines and/or jail for illegal drug importation focus on illegal wholesale importation of all prescription drugs, whether controlled or non-controlled prescription drugs. While it prioritizes counterfeit drugs, the illegal imports can be lawfully-manufactured, safe and effective. Recently, its focus is on stopping imports of fentanyl, mostly its ingredients. Part of that battle is stopping Internet activity that leads to the illegal fentanyl trade. Such ingredients, ordered online and then imported, are used to make fake opioid prescription drugs, which have exacerbated our nation’s crisis with drug addiction and overdose.

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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/.

(more…)

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Buying Ambien Online From a Foreign Pharmacy…Don’t!

Sleeping Woman painting by Gyula Derkovits

Sleeping Woman by Gyula Derkovits [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to the CDC, 50-70 million Americans report having trouble with sleep. Sixty million prescriptions were written in 2011 to help them, according to IMS Health. About 60% of those products contained the active ingredient of Ambien, called Zolpidem, which is also the generic name for this very popular sleep drug. Are you an American looking to buy Ambien or Zolpidem? Well, don’t purchase this medication online from a Canadian pharmacy or anywhere else overseas. I’m going to explain why with a real-life story.

A friend of mine, let’s call her Bertha, who is on Medicare Part D, is prescribed and takes Zolpidem. For most of the year, she only had to make a co-payment of about $3 at her local pharmacy. Then, a couple of months ago, the same pharmacy told Bertha that the price jumped to $46 for a one-month supply because her Part D plan had annual quantity restrictions for that medication.

So Bertha went to PharmacyChecker.com, typed in Zolpidem, then clicked 5mg, and read the following:

Zolpidem 5 mg Prices — Generic Version - Online pharmacies in our program do not offer Zolpidem 5 mg for sale.

Why not? Because Ambien (Zolpidem) is a controlled medication, meaning one subject to abuse, and we don’t allow online pharmacies that sell controlled medication internationally in our Verification Program. Rogue online pharmacies, domestic or foreign, might offer to sell you this medication without a prescription but don’t buy it: you’re risking your health by doing so. Even if they sell you the real thing, we strongly recommend not using controlled drugs without a prescription on or offline. The good news for Americans is that, if they shop around, the generic version of Ambien can be very affordable at the corner pharmacy. Prescription discount coupons often make them even more affordable. A new feature on PharmacyChecker.com (that is still being tested so be patient) can help…and so our story continues.

Under the notification “Online pharmacies in our program do not offer Zolpidem”, Bertha read the following

“But if you’re in the U.S., you can compare drug prices at your local pharmacies using a prescription discount card or coupon.”

She then clicked the “Search U.S. Local Pharmacy” button (see example below)–

Search U.S. Local Pharmacy Prices

–typed in her zip code and compared neighborhood pharmacy prices that are only available using a prescription discount coupon. She discovered that the cash price with the coupon was only about $10 – much better than the $46 she would have had to pay without insurance. She went to her local pharmacy and filled the script with no problems.

Like most Americans, Bertha has health insurance and a prescription drug plan. Unfortunately, tens of millions still do not. For them, if they get a script for Ambien, the savings can be even more dramatic with a prescription coupon or discount card. For example, I found at least one pharmacy charging $159 for a one-month supply of Zolpidem 5mg! Against that price, finding it for ten bucks with a coupon is a savings of $149/month or 94%!

If you’re still awake after reading this, I’m going to throw you a curve ball: there is a lot of controversy about prescription sleep medication, including Ambien, related to overprescribing, side effects, and questionable benefits. I found a good article about it in the New York Times and I recommend it. But if you get that prescription from your healthcare provider for Ambien, and are ready to fill it: go local, not international and check local pharmacy prices on PharmacyChecker.com.

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