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Eli Lilly’s and Alex Azar’s Position on Importation is a Canard

Alex AzarThis week, President Trump potentially handed Big Pharma one of its greatest victories by appointing Alex Azar the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Why? Until earlier this year, Alex Azar was the president of Eli Lilly USA and few people (companies are people?) on earth personify Big Pharma like Eli Lilly.

This matters to Americans who import lower cost medication to fill prescriptions because the FDA is an agency housed in HHS, and HHS has a lot of statutory power when it comes to importation of prescription drugs.

President Trump campaigned on making it legal for Americans to buy lower-cost medications from other countries, but Eli Lilly and Alex Azar are leading opponents of safe importation. In fact, Eli Lilly is perhaps the leader when it comes to hatching, or funding, strategic communications and lobbying campaigns to stop Americans from using safe, international online pharmacies. Its efforts through the non-profit group, Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies—FUNDED BY ELI LILLY—have been frighteningly successful at fooling our elected officials and the public that international online pharmacies are inherently bad for Americans. They do so by conflating counterfeit drugs and even fentanyl abuse with safe international online pharmacies. As I see it, Eli Lilly’s narrative on online pharmacy and importation incorporates the most sinister aspects of fake news. Really. (more…)

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Maine Passes Law Facilitating Greater Access to Safe and Affordable International Pharmacies

PharmacyChecker.com posted the following press release today. Click here to read it on PharmacyChecker.com


Maine Becomes First State to Legalize Prescription Drug Importation

— PharmacyChecker.com Applauds Historic Law and Helps Consumers to Shop Safely for Medication —

White Plains, New York – Thursday, June 27, 2013 – Today, Maine became the first state to legalize the importation of prescription drugs by individuals, allowing its residents to reduce the cost of obtaining expensive prescription medications by as much as 90%.

“Americans have accessed medication internationally for over the past decade but federal prohibitions on personal drug importation, while not enforced against individuals, have deterred millions. With that regulatory weight lifted in Maine and with proper guidance, more Americans will have access to safe and affordable medication,” said Gabriel Levitt, vice president of PharmacyChecker.com, a consumer website which evaluates the credentials of online pharmacies and provides drug price comparisons.

The Maine legislature overwhelmingly voted in favor of the law, which permits its residents to personally import prescription medication from licensed pharmacies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Maine’s House voted 107-37 in favor of the bill, with seven members absent; the Senate voted 30-4, with one member excused. The bill became law at midnight last night in the absence of a veto or signature by Governor Paul LePage. The bill, LD 171, “An Act To Facilitate the Personal Importation of Prescription Drugs from International Mail Order Prescription Pharmacies,” passed as amendment S-241.

Although several states adopted state-run drug importation programs almost a decade ago, most fell by the wayside because state governments did not widely market the programs. The State of the Kansas, under then Governor Kathleen Sebelius, provided a state web page helping residents access verified international pharmacies online. Ms. Sebelius is now Secretary of Health and Human Services. Maine, however, becomes the first state to formally legalize direct personal drug importation.

Research from the Commonwealth Fund has shown that 50 million Americans are not getting needed medication due to the high price of medications at U.S. pharmacies. “The State of Maine has resoundingly declared that this state of affairs is unacceptable,” added Mr. Levitt.

Founded by Tod Cooperman, M.D. in 2003, PharmacyChecker.com helps consumers safely save money on medication by identifying the lowest drug prices from reputable online pharmacies. It independently checks the credentials of online pharmacies and pharmacy discount cards providing easy comparisons of drug prices. PharmacyChecker.com, based in New York, is privately held with no ownership in or from companies that sell or distribute pharmacy products.

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PharmacyChecker Informs Surgeon General and HHS On Safe Use of Online Pharmacies To Improve Medication Adherence

The problem of Americans not taking medications is caused by high costs of prescription drugs, undesirable side-effects, health literacy, forgetfulness among other reasons. Medication non-adherence is a $317 billion problem. The U.S. Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services issued a request to individuals and organizations to submit information about the national problem of medication adherence. Specifically, the government’s request presents “the opportunity to identify issues relevant to all levels of government, as well as individuals, health care providers, and industry and private organizations in efforts to improve medication adherence in adults with chronic conditions.”

Since cost is one of the critical factors inhibiting Americans from getting needed medication, we believe the government should take more proactive steps to provide useful information about how to obtain affordable medication online. Our analysis and recommendations are published below. For a PDF copy click here.


The Honorable Howard K. Koh, MD., M.P.H.
Assistant Secretary for Health
The Honorable Vice Admiral Regina M. Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A.
Surgeon General of the United States
Room 710-H
200 Independence Ave., SW
Washington DC 20201

Re: Request for Information on Prescription Medication Adherence

Submitter: Gabriel Levitt, Vice President, PharmacyChecker.com, 333 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains, NY 10605. (718) 387-4526, Gabriel.levitt@pharmacychecker.com.

Prescription medication non-adherence should be treated as a national crisis since so many Americans suffer as a result. Some of the reasons for non-adherence are health literacy, psychological issues, side effects of medications, and lack of support systems. There are also tens of millions of Americans who simply can’t afford medication. A survey by the Commonwealth Fund found that 48 million Americans did not fill a prescription in 2010 due to high medication costs.[i] The data show the negative health and economic effects of non-adherence to prescription medication. First, it’s been reported that 121,000 people die each year due to prescription non-adherence.[ii] Second, according to the FDA, non-adherence to prescription medication costs the country $290 billion annually in additional health care costs.[iii] Third, numerous studies have shown that cost is either the number one reason, or a major factor for non-adherence. [iv]

Access to safe and affordable medication should be encouraged through all available sources, including personal drug importation. Over the past 15 years millions of Americans have obtained needed prescription drugs through non-U.S. online pharmacies, despite its technical illegality. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not prosecute people for small quantities of personal drug imports.

The FDA discourages Americans from ordering from any non-U.S. online pharmacy, not because it’s illegal but for safety reasons. Its position is that the drugs ordered from Canadian and other foreign pharmacies are not regulated by the FDA, and are therefore unsafe. That position is simply unsubstantiated. Fortunately for people living in other countries there are other national regulatory authorities that regulate drugs to make sure they are safe and effective.

We’ve established that the problem of prescription medication adherence is so severe in large part due to high drug prices.  If it is safe to order less expensive medication online that allows Americans to adhere to their doctor’s prescription then we should encourage their use. Are non-US online pharmacies safe?

The evidence shows that properly credentialed non-US online pharmacies which fill orders from licensed pharmacies, require a valid prescription, and provide verifiable contact information on their websites safely dispense genuine medication. The medication purchased for personal drug importation is often the same brand name product – from the same manufacturer – sold here but at a much lower price, often 80% less than U.S. pharmacies. A consumer is almost certain to receive proper care and safe medications from one that meets the aforementioned criteria and is certified in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program.[v] In fact, U.S. Government Accountability Office studies have shown the relative safety of Canadian online pharmacies compared to U.S. online pharmacies.[vi]

We recommend that the Secretary of Health and Human Services instruct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to:

  1.      Correct its website and consumer communications about online pharmacies to reflect the facts demonstrated by over a decade of studies and consumer experience.  The FDA website should communicate that “if you decide to purchase medication online from Canada or another country then only use properly credentialed websites.”
  2.     Explicitly allow, at least on a temporary basis, personal drug importation through properly credentialed non-US online pharmacies.

By taking these steps fewer Americans will go without needed prescription medication because it will be affordable.  Moreover, more people taking prescribed medication will lead to fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits, resulting in lower healthcare costs for the nation.

Sincerely,

Gabriel Levitt
Vice President
PharmacyChecker.com, LLC


[i] Commonwealth Fund: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Surveys/2011/Mar/2010-Biennial-Health-Insurance-Survey.aspx.

[ii] Cut Copayments to Bolster Adherence”, The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, See http://www.cmpi.org/in-the-news/in-the-news/cut-drug-copayments-to-bolster-adherence/(last accessed July 27, 2011).

[iii] Campaign to Improve Poor Medication Adherence (U18), A Notice by the Food and Drug Administration on 03/09/2011, See http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/03/09/2011-5287/campaign-to-improve-poor-medication-adherence-u18#p-13, (last accessed July 27, 2011).

[iv] For more information see: http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/03/09/2011-5287/campaign-to-improve-poor-medication-adherence-u18; http://www.nclnet.org/images/PDF/adherence_focus_groups.pdf; http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2008-releases/poll-usa-today-kaiser-harvard-prescription-drugs.html (last accessed July 27, 2011)

[v] Bate, Roger, Ginger Zhe Jin and Aparna Mathur. “Unveiling the Mystery of Online Pharmacies: An Audit Studay”. National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper #17655 (http://www.nber.org/papers/w17955.pdf). April 2012.

[vi] U.S. Government Accountability Office. Some Internet Pharmacies Pose Safety Risks For Consumers, GAO-04-820. Washington, DC. Government Accountability Office June 2004. See http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04820.pdf (last accessed June 26th, 2011).

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