Online Pharmacies and Freedom: Happy 4th of July from PharmacyChecker!

U.S. flag and pillBack in 1776, America’s Founding Fathers agreed that a government should not deprive its people of their natural freedoms. So when I think about the tyranny of high drug prices in America this July 4th – the cause of millions, living in one of the richest countries in the world, going without needed medication and bankrupt – I’m also thinking about the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms it promises. And I write with humility that safe online pharmacies offering lower drug prices from other countries have a lot to do with helping Americans achieve “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Life: There are people living in the United States who, according to their testimonials, would lose their lives if not for safe international online pharmacies.

Liberty: The Internet is a tool of freedom for millions when it comes to access to affordable medication. The Internet helps educate people that medication prices are much lower in other countries and provides access to legally operating and safe pharmacies from which they can obtain affordable medication.

Pursuit of Happiness: In this case, I am talking about saving money but also what that means to most Americans. Few would argue that Thomas Jefferson was talking, at least in part, about financial health and security when he penned this phrase. It’s not just about lower drug prices or death. It’s about the grandparent who pursues happiness by saving a $1000 a year buying medication from a foreign pharmacy so that he or she can visit their grandchildren this July 4th.

For these reasons, at PharmacyChecker.com, we believe it is an honor to help Americans who are going online for lower cost medication by identifying the safest online pharmacy options at which people can buy medication they can afford. By doing so, we enable them to both protect themselves from rogue online pharmacies and their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Happy 4th of July!

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Cancer drug costs and desperation: a reality for Americans

This blog post concerns real people who are desperate, angry, and facing terminal illness because of the cost of a cancer medication. A woman named Lisa recently placed a comment on a blog post we wrote back in March 2013 called “The Price of Gleevec: A Tale of Two Supreme Courts.”  We noted at the time that the Indian Supreme Court told drug company Novartis to go fly a kite in its effort to stop lower cost generic versions of Gleevec, a cancer medication, from being sold in India, and that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments against a practice known as Pay-to-Delay involving a different medication.

But this post is not about policies and intellectual property or patent rights, the rightness or wrongness of India’s looser patent laws, pay-to-delay, personal drug importation or online pharmacies. It’s just about a woman’s husband and others who have cancer and can’t afford the medicine they need to get better or live.

Lisa gave me permission to re-publish her comment as a blog post here. I have made very, very slight edits, as you can see if you look at the original comment.

Lisa wrote:

This is very interesting news and gives us a little hope. My husband has Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). He has been on Gleevec (here in So. California for the past 12 years. I thought I should mention Gleevec here in the U.S. is $10,600.00 a month for 400mg (30 pills). I thought should mention this because your prices listed here in the U.S. are inaccurate. That would bring the total cost to $126,000 a year.

We are going broke, will probably lose our home and my husband will probably never be able to retire (even though his body is breaking down from 40+ years of a very physical job as a pipe fitter. I (the wife), am permanently disabled. We will die homeless before this drug ever comes within an affordable price.

Many children and adults are cutting their pills in half, which defects the purpose. They too, will die before seeing Gleevec reach an affordable price here in the U.S.

All the countries you listed in the article, do NOT accept U.S. insurance companies and/or ObamaCare.

Why doesn’t anyone bring this to the press? Why does Congress and ObamaCare turn a blind eye? How many hundreds have to die before this drug and options are researched. I have written many letters to Norvartis, only to be ignored. I have written to Media Outlets only to be ignored. Now I am desperately asking for your help in bringing this to the media and anyone that will listen. We and many others are scared out of our minds. We are really loosing hope and it is tearing families apart. Some patients are becoming suicidal, because they don’t know how they are going to afford the next month supply of Gleevec. Novartis (GREEDARTIS) should be ashamed of themselves. You should research the substantial increases (quarterly), since the drug first went on the market. It will blow you mind! What if this was your child or loved one?

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Is Viagra really safe to buy online? The truth.

Is Viagra really safe to buy online? The truth.

Viagra, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s name for a drug called sildenafil citrate, is the most sought after medication on the Internet. You can save a lot of money buying Viagra online, but you can also risk getting a fake or tainted product which endangers your health. Here’s how to stay safe and save money. (more…)

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If not treated properly, the breathing condition known as asthma is deadly. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nine people die each day from asthma and in 2009 there were 3,388 deaths. Flovent is an inhaled corticosteroid that treats asthma.  Flovent not only makes breathing easier for asthma sufferers, it helps prevent severe attacks that can cause hospitalization.

But Flovent can be prohibitively expensive, especially if you are uninsured or your health insurance will not cover this medication.  Kids are often the victim of high asthma drug prices. A 3-month supply of Flovent Diskus (fluticasone propionate) 250 mcg inhalers costs around $778 at a local pharmacy.  Based on a typical dosage, that works out to $3,112 per year.  That’s a huge number considering the median family income in the U.S.  is about $52,000 a year –and of course tens of millions of families make due with much, much less. According to one academic study, failure to take your asthma medication often leads to “decreased quality of life, lost productivity, increased health care utilization, and even the risk of death.”

Pharmacy discount cards can help the situation.  With a discount card the price for a 3-month supply might drop down to $684 at a U.S. pharmacy for a 3-month supply, a savings of $131.

But the costs are far lower in other countries for the same medication. Instead of calling it Flovent Diskus, GlaxoSmithKline markets fluticasone propionate as Flixotide Discus, which is sold in licensed pharmacies throughout the world.  The foreign version of Flovent Diskus 250 mcg inhaler can be purchased online for about $123 for a 3-month supply or $492 a year. That’s a potential discount of about 84% and a savings of $2619 per year off the price of Flovent Diskus sold in the U.S.!

According to the CDC, about one in 10 children have asthma.  It’s a serious but treatable condition.  There are effective medications like Flovent Diskus, which is approved for children as young as four years old.   My son suffered from cold-induced asthma as a smaller child and it’s scary, and that’s why this particular condition makes me so mad. Parents often can’t afford asthma medications and sometimes must bring their kids to the hospital when their asthma flares up. I think that’s unforgivable and that no parent should have to watch their child suffer, and yet they do from the high cost of medications in the U.S.

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The media rage these days when it comes to prescription drug prices is three-fold: 1) generic drug price spikes of literally thousands of percent, 2) specialty medications that cost $1.000/pill, and 3) cancer treatment costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year! We’re glad the media is loudly covering the public health crisis of high drug prices, but its focus of late seems to take the heat off of never ending brand name drug price increases and the pharmaceutical companies that charge those prices. We haven’t forgotten. For us the heat is on: including a loud reminder that these brand drugs are sold much more affordably outside the U.S., and can be found and safely purchased online.

To help us, I looked to the research of David Belk, MD. Dr. Belk, who is concerned with, and voraciously researches the insanity of healthcare costs, publishes a website called True Cost of Healthcare. His research shows that brand name drug prices increased by 13 times the rate of inflation over the past two and a half years. These are medications for which there is no available generic in the U.S. He looked at 335 drugs, their wholesale prices and tracked their increases from the October 2012 to the beginning of 2015. Only one drug, Norvir, actually came down in price. Dr. Belk writes: “All other brand name prescription drugs on my list went up a minimum of 9% and an average of just over 40% in price in only 2 1/2 years.”

While these brand drugs aren’t $1,000 per pill like Sovaldi, many Americans really can’t afford them. Below are two examples of brand name drugs that if purchased outside the U.S., would potentially save an American $4,000 a year and/or prevent that American from going without a prescribed, essential medicine for Diabetes or Asthma.

Januvia 100mg (siptagliptin), a drug that treats type-2 diabetes could cost you $1,149 for a three month supply at a local U.S. pharmacy. With a prescription discount coupon, you might get it for $963. If that’s too much, then brand name Januvia, marketed by MSD (a subsidiary of Merck), can be purchased online for $103.50 from an international online pharmacy– a percentage savings of 91% and a cost savings exceeding $1,000 over 3 months. Over a year, the cost savings is about $4,000.

Another example is Advair Diskus (fluticasone propionate/salmeterol), a popular asthma medication that is out of reach for many Americans due to cost. A three month supply of the 250/5mcg inhaler can run you $1,050 in a local U.S. pharmacy. With a discount card the price might be reduced to $874. At a verified international online pharmacy, the drug called Seretide Accuhaler, the name brand used by GlaxoSmithKline to market fluticasone propionate/salmeterol in several countries, is only $105: another three-month savings of $1,000 and annual savings of $4,000.

This summer at PharmacyChecker.com we’re going to keep the heat on the pharmaceutical industry with lots of examples of the crazy costs of normal brand name drugs in the U.S., and cooling things down for consumers with lots of savings you can find online.

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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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Generic Drugs Prices, Diminishing Returns?

Yesterday, AARP published its latest Rx Price Watch report, which highlights generic prescription medication price changes from 2006-2013. Generic medication is considered the best avenue towards lower taxpayer and consumer drug costs. In the mid-1980s, passage of the Hatch-Waxman Act helped bring lower cost generic medication to the market faster and fueled intense price competition among generic manufacturers. The result was 1) much lower drug prices on medications that have lost their patents (often 90% lower) and 2) an exceedingly high generic penetration rate with generics comprising 85% of all medication use. AARP’s report suggests that generic drug prices continue to decrease, which is good, but at a much slower rate, “indicating that the era of consistent generic drug price decreases may be coming to an end.”

Stay calm. Generics are still usually much lower cost than the brand names and that will continue to be the case. AARP’s report notes that 2013 had the lowest average generic price decrease (4.1%) since 2006. However, AARP’s data also shows considerable fluctuation in this rate, enough to question whether or not we’re really experiencing a new normal in which generic drug prices no longer decline year after year. For example, the decreases in average generic drug prices that occurred in the prior two years, 2011 and 2012, 9.1% and 14.5%, respectively, were the highest since 2006. These numbers, however, most likely reflect what’s referred to as the “patent cliff” – a time when many patents on blockbuster brand name drugs, such as Lipitor and Plavix, lost their patents, thus allowing much lower cost generics to enter the market. As I see it, we don’t really know the future trend of generic drug prices.

Again, most generic drugs are way cheaper than their brand name counterparts and just as safe and effective. The big generic drug problem is that the cost of some generics has spiked outrageously over the past few years, sometimes beyond the reach of the American consumer. Usually when we talk about insane price increases of brand name drugs year over year the percentages are 10, 20, 30 or even 40%. But the increases for some generics have literally been in the 2000% range! One crazy example, reported by the People’s Pharmacy, showed that the cost of the antibiotic doxycycline skyrocketed from six cents ($.06) to $3.30, a 5500% increase.

In fact, directing you back to our research from November 2014, we found that even brand name versions sold in foreign pharmacies can be MUCH lower cost than the generics sold here! Please keep in mind that those same generics mentioned in our analysis may have already come down in price domestically. So before you buy from an international online pharmacy, check your local pharmacy first.

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Tens of millions of Americans cannot afford medication, which can lead to more sickness, hospitalizations, and even death. Despite this public health crisis, our trusted regulatory authorities, the pharmaceutical industry, and U.S. pharmacy trade groups work together to scare Americans away from ordering much more affordable medications from foreign pharmacies. Is that right or wrong?

This week, in our continuing 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 the next section of our report called Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation, and Public Health

(more…)

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A story last Friday on ABC News’s 20/20 featured the topic of counterfeit drugs, their dangers and where they’re being sold. The story was helpful in educating the public about the threat of counterfeit drugs but it really seemed to play along with a misleading narrative, one propagated by the drug companies, that foreign medications are the same as counterfeit drugs. I’ve debunked this nonsense before: affordable and safe medications sold from foreign pharmacies are not the same as counterfeit drugs. 

Also, as part of its feature on counterfeits, ABC’s website has a section called “How to Order Prescription Drugs Safely Online” that looks to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) for useful consumer information.  ASOP is financed and operated by big corporate pharmaceutical interests that oppose personal drug importation from safe online pharmacies. If you have great health insurance that covers all of your medications, or lots of money to cover exceedingly high out of pocket prescription drug costs, then the recommendations of ASOP might work for you because they recommend big U.S. chain pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, which charge the world’s highest prices for medication. Many other Americans actually NEED safe international online pharmacies, which ASOP would call unapproved or even “rogue.”

It its story, ABC investigative journalists tracked down people selling prescription medications on the street, from push carts, even in clothing stores – usually in relatively poor neighborhoods. Eventually those people were arrested, all for the viewing audience to see. According to the federal agents involved, some of the medications seized were counterfeit and people did not have to provide a prescription to buy prescription drugs. The story was very troubling. Indeed, it was a powerful indictment of our society, one in which drug prices are so outrageously high that people, such as undocumented immigrants without health insurance, look to street peddlers to find affordable medication.

ABC also covered what are known as “Storefront” pharmacies, which are located throughout the country, often in strip malls, where people go to buy medications from pharmacies in other countries by mail order. These storefronts usually have titles that include the words “Canada,” or “Canadian,” and “Drugs,” “meds,” “medicine,” “Rx,” etc., which indicate that a person can acquire medicine from Canada. ABC wanted to highlight that the medications ordered at these places often do not come from Canadian pharmacies but from other countries. ABC’s implication is that people are being misled. On the other hand, when watching the show, it appeared that storefront personnel did communicate that the orders would not come from Canada so I’m not clear on what’s going on here. We wrote a piece about online pharmacies related to this issue: “So You Want to Buy Cheap Medicine from an Actual Canadian Pharmacy. Here’s the Deal.”

We do not verify storefronts but we believe that some of them are essentially people and companies that help Americans place prescription drug orders from foreign pharmacies that require a valid prescription. In fact, through ABC’s mystery shopping (meaning purchasing prescription drugs from storefronts) they were required to submit valid prescriptions and did so. A few weeks later the journalists received four medications, two of them brand, Viagra and Zocor, coming from Singapore and the UK, and two generics, tadalafil (the brand version known as Cialis) and finasteride (the brand version known as Propecia), both Indian drug products.

The story made it seem as if the two generics were either substandard or counterfeit, as it was noted they contained “impurities” or “unknown ingredients”. What ABC News did not communicate is that the so-called “impurities” or “unknown ingredients” might be acceptable inactive ingredients, excipients, etc., just different from those in the brand versions sold in the U.S. This is normal: generic drugs in the U.S. often have different inactive ingredients from their brand name counterparts. When the Indian generics were chemically tested, ABC showed the results as “fail” but didn’t tell you that generics sold in U.S. pharmacies would likely have failed as well if given that same test because they are not the exact same as the brand in terms of inactive ingredients.

Also, when ABC reported that most of the medicines did not meet FDA standards, it didn’t explain that simply having a label designed for a different country automatically means it does not meet FDA standards, regardless of the medication’s actual safety. In short, foreign sourced medications are often safe and effective products, approved for sale in the countries from which they are dispensed – but not counterfeit or substandard.

It’s important to note that the generics received by the journalists came from India, and, as we’ve written about before, India does have more problems with low quality and counterfeit drugs than in the U.S. or other rich countries. At the same time, India is the largest source of generic medications, exporting across the globe to wealthy, middle income and poor countries. In fact, 40% of generics sold in U.S. pharmacies are from India.  It’s well known that the top Indian drug companies excel at making high quality, safe and effective prescription medications, but even among them problems exist, too.

On a closing note about ABC’s coverage of counterfeit drugs, I encourage our readers to look at the consumer comments section on ABC’s website.  People don’t believe the big drug company propaganda, or even our trusted regulatory authorities like the FDA. That bothers me because the FDA is right that there are rogue pharmacy operators out there, often online, but they’re wrong not to acknowledge the relative safety and public health benefits of safe international online pharmacies. Hopefully ABC will really investigate

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