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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 on the public health crisis of high drug prices, or 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 that 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 stop 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 was called “Applying Lessons of “fake news” to Online Pharmacies, Drug Importation Polices.” That op-ed came on the heels of my blog post called: “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. 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. International online pharmacies that sell prescription opioids to patients in the U.S., or any controlled medication, as defined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, are not eligible for the PharmacyChecker Verification Program.

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 because 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 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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President Trump’s Tweet Against Merck CEO Detracts from His Own Inaction on Drug Prices

President Trump’s Tweet Against Merck CEO Detracts from His Own Inaction on Drug Prices

This week, Merck’s CEO, Kenneth Frazier, resigned from President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in protest over the president’s initial response to the violence in Charlottesville, VA. White supremacist groups came together to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who headed the Confederate Army, and counter-protesters clashed this past Saturday. During the events, a self-affiliating white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19. The president condemned the violence but made it seem as if both sides, white supremacists and counter-protesters, were equally to blame, which is wrong. Mr. Frazier believed that President Trump should have forcefully and clearly criticized white supremacists.

I strongly agree with and applaud Mr. Frazier’s action. However, I felt compelled to write about this issue because President Trump mocked Mr. Frazier on Twitter about high drug prices. He wrote: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

Mr. Frazier, the son of a hardworking janitor, worked his way up to his current position. He is also African American. For obvious and good reasons, he took a stand. But Mr. Frazier is also CEO of a Big Pharma company and not interested in lower drug prices.

President Trump is the one who needs to act, and President Trump is the one who can lower drug prices.

Trump supported legalizing importation of lower cost medications during his presidential campaign. It was one of his few positions that has wide, bi-partisan public support. He has the executive authority, via the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to expressly permit personal drug importation now.

Now is the time to use that authority.

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