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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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Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health: Conclusion

For the past three months or so, we’ve published a section a week of our report called “Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health.” The report was written to call attention to a woefully flawed and highly misleading report published by the Government Accountability Office about Internet pharmacies and how best to carry out enforcement actions to protect consumers from rogue online pharmacies. Rogue pharmacy websites that endanger public health require serious efforts by regulators and law enforcement personnel, domestically and globally. However, instead of focusing all efforts on the tens of thousands of rouge pharmacy websites polluting the Internet, the federal government and private industry are also targeting the safest international online pharmacies, ones that Americans rely on to obtain affordable medication. Why?

Through this series on our blog, we’ve tried to draw the attention and understanding of our elected leaders and the public-at-large to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry, along with U.S. chain pharmacies, are clearly the ones driving policy, including enforcement priorities when it comes to the issue of online access to safe and affordable medication. In some cases, drug companies are directly funding law enforcement officials. And those companies don’t want Americans obtaining much more affordable and safe medication from pharmacies outside the U.S. And with that, we publish the conclusion to our report.
(more…)

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Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health: Illegal Doesn’t Mean Unsafe

Continuing our quest to get the truth out and for our elected leaders in Congress to take bold action to protect online access to safe and affordable medication, we’re publishing a section a week of our report called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health. Our report refutes a flawed GAO report about Internet pharmacies.

This week we look at the evidence that proves that illegal personal drug importation is not inherently unsafe. First of all, when Americans buy medication from a licensed pharmacy in Canada, India, Turkey, or the UK, the pharmacy itself is legal in those countries: after all its licensed. Unfortunately, it’s technically illegal under most circumstances for a consumer to import meds for their own use from those pharmacies. It’s very common for groups funded by big drug companies to confuse consumers and even lawmakers that this illegality means the practice is inherently not safe, but that’s not true…

Illegal Doesn’t Mean Unsafe

The GAO report misconstrues safety and legality in its analysis of Internet pharmacies. The report states: “By violating federal and state laws, rogue Internet pharmacies threaten the public health.” For about fifteen years, often in violation of federal and state laws, millions of Americans have safely imported medication ordered online, pursuant to a valid prescription for their own use. As evidenced throughout this report, it’s not the violation of federal or state laws that threaten the public health but the actions of rogue pharmacy operators who sell fake or otherwise dangerous medication, or real medication without requiring a prescription.

The facts about personal drug importation are as follows: 1) Through orders placed online, tens of millions of Americans have imported medication from licensed pharmacies that require a prescription over the past 15 years with no reported deaths or serious adverse effects; 2) the practice is technically illegal under most circumstances; 3) there is no evidence that shows personal drug importation of non-controlled medication where a prescription is required is inherently unsafe; 4) according to the FDA, no one has ever been prosecuted for importing small quantities of prescription drugs for personal use.1

If an American receives a drug ordered online that was dispensed and mailed properly from a licensed pharmacy, it makes no difference from a safety perspective whether the product came from a U.S. or foreign licensed pharmacy, as long as the drug has the right amount of the active ingredient, treats the condition as intended, and is administered in the manner intended by the physician who prescribed the drug. Like those sold in U.S. pharmacies, medications ordered from credentialed international online pharmacies are produced in factories employing Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and are distributed, stored, dispensed, and mailed properly. The drugs are the same as or foreign versions of those sold in U.S. pharmacies.


1“Should You Use an Overseas Pharmacy,” MoneyTalksNews.com, 2/1/2013. An email written by Christopher Kelly, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA, states: “FDA is not aware of any actions taken against an individual resulting from their purchase of small quantities of unapproved drugs for personal use.” http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2013/02/01/is-it-safe-to-use-an-overseas-pharmacy/, [Last accessed 12/17/2013].

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