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Can you buy lower cost medication from foreign pharmacies in your neighborhood?

Vero Beach Strip Mall

Vero Beach Strip Mall by Sylvar, Creative Commons

Yes, but it depends where you live. For example, if you live in Florida, according to Kaiser Health News, apparently it’s very easy to find a local “storefront” where you can buy lower cost medication from Canada and other countries. Of course, consumers do not need to go to a pharmacy storefront to benefit from lower drug prices in other countries. They can compare drug prices among safe international online pharmacies in our Verification Program.

As with most personal drug importation, the FDA has said importing meds from foreign pharmacies is technically illegal under most circumstances. In practice, the FDA does not prosecute individuals for importing small quantities of prescription drugs for personal use. According to Kaiser Health News, the pharmacy storefronts in Florida have not faced regulatory actions. A professor of health policy at University of South Florida, Sean Greggory, stated that shutting down storefronts “would be seen as restricting access to affordable drugs and supporting big bad [drug] corporations.”

PharmacyChecker.com checks the credentials of international online pharmacies to verify that they are licensed and operating properly but to date we have not checked storefront pharmacy operations. However, over the years, we’ve heard about storefronts throughout the U.S. that refer orders to pharmacies in other countries and, if those pharmacies are licensed and operating safety, we think it’s great!

The need for the storefronts is greatest among older Americans. Their Part D Medicare drug plans are not always adequate to cover prescription costs and seniors continue to face drug affordability problems. The storefronts, like international online pharmacies, offer much lower prices on brand name drugs than local U.S. pharmacies.

When online pharmacies, particularly the Canadian options, were first available over 15 years ago, many seniors did not know how to use the Internet or felt uncomfortable doing so. In 2000, only 14% of seniors used the Internet, compared to 58% in 2015 [Source]. But that still leaves a lot of seniors who might have trouble ordering medication online by themselves. For them, pharmacy storefronts can be a lifeline. As the Kaiser article points out, while “Many consumers do their own online buying from foreign pharmacies…storefront operators target an older generation interested in buying medicines abroad but who lack computer savvy and are insecure about buying online by themselves.”

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What do Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have in common? Support for Drug Importation.

Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Yesterday, our CEO, Tod Cooperman, MD, applauded leading presidential candidates for supporting legal reforms to make it easier for Americans to buy lower cost medications from other countries.

“With millions of Americans doing this safely for more than a dozen years, it’s time for our government to stop threatening and scaring consumers and simply do what’s right: Make personal drug importation fully legal. Every presidential candidate should support this,” says Dr. Cooperman.

To read the full press release, go here: http://www.pharmacychecker.com/news/trump-clinton-sanders-support-drug-importation.asp.

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John and Laura Arnold Foundation Helping To Tackle High Drug Prices…But What about Personal Drug Importation?

With its gift of $7.2 million to fund various research projects, the John and Laura Arnold Foundation gave a boost this week to the cause of lowering drug prices in America. According to the Foundation’s press release: “The research projects will focus on analyzing how regulatory policies and programs impact drug pricing, drug development, and patients’ access to medication.”

The lion’s share of the funds will go to the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center’s Evidence Driven Drug Pricing Project. Led by Dr. Peter Bach, the effort pursues strategies to evaluate the relative effectiveness of medications. The goal of Dr. Bach’s project is to make sure that medications are priced according to how well they actually work. Sounds like common sense, but too often medications that often don’t work are widely prescribed, and very expensive!

The money will also go toward various evidence-based studies looking into the workings of the drug development pipeline, state and federal regulations that affect Medicaid drug purchasing, and alternative Medicaid purchasing models that tie reimbursement to patient health outcomes.

One smaller project caught my eye, because it looks at pharmaceutical regulations and law that affect innovation. The Brigham and Woman’s Hospital’s Program on Regulations, Therapeutics, and Law will receive $748,445 to analyze existing regulations enacted to incentivize pharmaceutical innovation. The press release reads: “Researchers will analyze programs and incentives such as tax breaks, market exclusivity protections, and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) fast-track approval pathways.”

In looking at regulations and law, the cause of lower drug prices would be well served by a research project dedicated to evaluating the effects of federal restrictions on prescription drug importation. Ostensibly, drug importation restrictions are in place to prevent unsafe and counterfeit medications from reaching patients, but we know that they also curtail access to lower cost, safe and effective medication as well. That’s why millions of Americans buy foreign medication online despite the prohibiting regulations.

New research would help determine a more suitable regulatory framework to protect patient health, but also expand access to more affordable medication through safe personal drug importation. This recent grant by the John and Laura Arnold Foundation is its second in the area of prescription drug prices. Three’s a charm!

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Fewer Americans Importing Medications in 2016: Good or Bad? Oh, and Happy New Year!

Times Squaer Crowd New Year's Eve
As we move out of 2015 and into 2016 with a strong wave of hostility rising throughout the country about high drug prices, what I’m about to report may seem incongruous. Fewer Americans seem to be buying lower cost medications from other countries. For the past few years, largely based on data from the CDC in 2013, I’ve published the number five million as the approximate number of Americans who, due to high drug prices, import medication annually for personal use. But a newer CDC report published in 2015 (that I recently came across) puts that number closer to four million, a 20% decrease.

If drug prices are going up, and Americans are fed up with prescription costs, wouldn’t you expect more people to be buying lower cost medications from outside the country? With fewer Americans buying medication internationally, potentially one million, how many of them are simply not taking prescribed medication? Are our most trusted authorities scaring Americans away from obtaining lower cost medications from other countries, or has affordable access improved over the past few years?

(more…)

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A New Non-Profit Is Born – Prescription Justice Action Group – To Help Americans If Their Meds Are Taken by the FDA

pjag_banner_med

Today, as the Obama administration hosted a “public” forum (think invitation only) about pharmaceutical innovation, access and affordability, I announced the formation of a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Americans get justice when it comes to prescription drug prices: Prescription Justice Action Group (PJAG). Whereas the administration’s public forum ignored personal drug importation, PJAG is providing guidance to Americans on what to do if their prescription drug orders are refused import by the FDA so they can try to have their medications released.

For about fifteen years, tens of millions of Americans have purchased medication from outside the U.S. –usually ordering it online. They do it because they want to save money or they really cannot afford the medication here at local pharmacies. The fact is that it has become a lifeline of lower cost medications for Americans.

But a new law – Section 708 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act – gives the FDA expanded powers to destroy your personally imported medications, whether bought from a Canadian, Indian, Turkish or U.K. pharmacy. That doesn’t mean they will. It just means that they can. That law became effective over a month ago, and we haven’t heard of increased FDA seizures and destructions of international prescription orders.

The FDA has stated, and we have re-affirmed on our blog and main website, that under most circumstances it’s technically illegal to import prescription medication for personal use. But is it really? Is it always?

Section 708 allows the FDA to detain and potentially destroy your prescription order if it appears to be misbranded, unapproved, counterfeit or adulterated. If they take your adulterated or counterfeit drugs then the FDA has done their job. Misbranded or unapproved drugs, in contrast, could be entirely safe and effective medications, the same or foreign versions of the ones you buy in the U.S., but much less expensive. Under Section 708, you must be notified by the FDA if they take your prescription drug import, and you have 20 days to challenge them on their action. PJAG, in consultation with legal advisers, believes that you can make a good case that FDA should not destroy the medication but instead send it to you.

There are many dangerous online pharmacies out there from which you don’t want to buy or import medication. We call them rogue online pharmacies. But if you import a genuine, safe and effective medication, one that was purchased from a PharmacyChecker.com-approved online pharmacy and you get a notification from the FDA telling you that your prescription drug order is subject to destruction…PJAG!

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