While PharmacyChecker.com is not taking sides in the presidential election, last Saturday, the Huffington Post published an op-ed by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders entitled “High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans” that we agree with. Senator Sanders believes that the U.S. government should make it easier for Americans to import lower cost medications from other countries. He writes: “Americans should be able to do this online or by mail, provided they have the proper prescription from a physician.” Polls show that most Americans feel the same way.
In contrast, John Horton, the founder of LegitScript.com, was busy this week trying to achieve the opposite – keeping the U.S. a captive drug market by scaring Americans away from safe and affordable international online pharmacies. Mr. Horton appeared to gleefully report that a safe international online pharmacy operated from Canada, TotalCareMart.com, was “ordered to be shut down” by the College of Pharmacy in Manitoba. As usual, however, Mr. Horton misrepresented the facts, skipping details that are important to consumers.
TotalCareMart.com, as it notes on its website, “is not itself a pharmacy, but a prescription referral service.” It refers orders to licensed pharmacies in Canada and other countries, and helps Americans fill their prescriptions at lower cost. We know this is true because PharmacyChecker verifies the licenses of the pharmacies TotalCareMart.com uses. So what’s the current fuss about?
According to an article in CBC News, the College of Pharmacists in Manitoba recently sent TotalCareMart.com a letter to discontinue its marketing efforts, accusing the website of “suggesting” that – in its print advertising in the U.S. – it is a Canadian pharmacy, rather than a prescription referral service, through which orders placed online are filled in Canadian and other pharmacies. If that’s the case, we would agree that any such advertising should be clearer. As noted above, on its website, TotalCareMart.com appears to accurately describe itself. Another complaint is that the website advertises certain popular brand name medications (Zetia, Benicar, and Lexapro) using their U.S. names, when, in Canada, these medications are sold under different names, which may violate Canadian prescription drug marketing laws – even though TotalCareMart.com does not market those products to Canadians. From the perspective of an American consumer this would not seem to be a concern.
The regulatory and legal issues at hand are technical and involve the definition of a “pharmacy,” marketing laws, and potentially conflicting legal jurisdictions. But the bottom line is that TotalCareMart.com is a safe international online pharmacy and the regulatory actions described above do not remotely show otherwise.
In addition to the spin on the CBC news story, Mr. Horton took the opportunity to continue his incessant campaign of trying to embarrass and disparage PharmacyChecker.com, so I will address his “concerns.”
LegitScript published a screenshot of PharmacyChecker’s seal profile for TotalCareMart.com. Due to an administrative glitch (about which we are embarrassed, but have corrected) the profile read “last verified’ in 11/21/2011, but rest assured that our last regularly scheduled verification was on 8/12/2015. The pharmacy in Canada which TotalCareMart.com uses, Westview Pharmacy, continues to be licensed by the Manitoba College of Pharmacists — the same regulator that sent the letter to TotalCareMart.com: you can check the license yourself.
Mr. Horton also criticizes our policy of not always publishing the names of the bricks-and-mortar pharmacies through which international online pharmacies fill orders. We do this for a very good reason, one that benefits consumers: Pharmaceutical companies have a history of cutting supplies to pharmacies outside the U.S. that sell their products at lower prices to Americans! We don’t want drug companies to stop consumers from getting prescribed medications at lower cost. What’s funny, however, is that LegitScript has made a big deal about “outing” the name of a pharmacy we kept confidential only to discover that it’s a licensed pharmacy in Canada. Thanks!
We agree that online pharmacies (and big multinational pharmaceutical companies) should be truthful and as transparent as possible about what they do and how they portray themselves. That’s why, for over 10 years, PharmacyChecker.com has required Canadian online pharmacies to disclose the countries in which they partner with local pharmacies and they must identify the specific pharmacies to us. We then verify the licenses of these pharmacies before an online pharmacy can be a member of our Verification Program. If you look at our site, you’ll notice we list the countries to which an online pharmacy refers orders. We’re not sure what Mr. Horton is talking about when he writes that we “concede” that “other verified dispensing pharmacies” used by TotalDrugMart.com are in “New Zealand, Turkey, Singapore, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand” – referring to the information PharmacyChecker.com publishes in TotalDrugMart.com’s Seal Profile. Thank you, Mr. Horton, for finally saying what you know: we don’t help online pharmacies pretend their “Canadian” but provide information to consumers so that they know what’s up. For newcomers to this issue: we have a blog post that will be very instructive: “So you Want to Buy Cheap Medicine From an Actual Canadian Pharmacy?”
Mr. Horton loves to highlight that a very small number of mostly U.S. online pharmacies, which were once approved in our program, were found or accused of selling controlled drugs without valid prescriptions. What he fails to mention is that most were not in our program at the time that they were charged and none has been in our program for years (since 2010). Yes, licensed pharmacies and pharmacists (and big pharmaceutical companies) break the rules sometimes, on and offline – and they need to pay the consequences commensurate with the harm they have done. But which pharmacy seems to have the worst track record of fueling the addiction epidemic? I believe that award goes to none other than LegitScript-approved Walgreens! Walgreens had to pay $80 million in 2013 to make charges go away that it illegally sold controlled drugs, including opiate-based medications into the black market. [This is not to disparage the thousands of good people and pharmacists who work for Walgreens but to show LegitScript’s hypocrisy.]
Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem and no laughing matter. The sad truth is that of the of 41,340 annual deadly drug overdoses, 22,810 were caused by legal, often highly addictive opiate-based, pharmaceuticals. It’s a serious epidemic, and while vigilance and enforcement are critical, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internet causes a tiny fraction of the problem. Our program excludes international online pharmacies that sell controlled drugs into the U.S. at all.
Seriously and sadly, if the FDA and/or Canadian regulators decide to, they can probably figure out a way to shut down the safest international online pharmacies. Of course, that may lead Americans seeking affordable medication into a minefield of rogue online pharmacies (over 30,000 according to LegitScript). Is that really what Mr. Horton wants? But, as I have written before, and shared with elected leaders, shutting down safe international online pharmacies is bad for public health.
Our 12 years of publishing online pharmacy verification and pricing information, and my advocacy, has made PharmacyChecker.com a prime target of Pharma-front groups and their lobbyists. They have misled journalists to believe all kinds of misinformation. They also point out that PharmacyChecker.com is a business not a non-profit group — and about that they are correct: We are proud to have started and to run a small American business that, unlike LegitScript, doesn’t rely on taxpayer’s money ($5.2 million) or mislead Americans. PharmacyChecker helps Americans find information about the most affordable and safe online pharmacy options. As Senator Sanders says, “High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans” and we’re glad to be part of the solution, not the problem.