[This is an unedited message from a consumer. You’ll note that, unfortunately, international online pharmacies raise their prices, too! If you have a story you’d like to tell, email us at yourstories@pharmacychecker.com.]

 

“I chose to order my Celebrex 200mg from a Canadian pharmacy when the price from Pfizer skyrocketed and the generic did the same. I assume you know that Pfizer selected a certain few US generic manufacturers to make it. They have kept the generic price almost as high as Pfizer’s. That is an unavoidable result of price control by Pfizer.

I have had good results from [Pharmacy Name Redacted]* although they have raised the price for 90 about $10 each time I have refilled. May switch to a different one from your list next time.”

-Ann K.

 

*PharmacyChecker does not wish to highlight specific international online pharmacies in our blog. You can view the current list of online pharmacies that sell branded and generic versions of Celebrex.

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Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies – Using Deception to Keep You Paying More

Pharma-funded group elixir to fool Americans about personal drug importation and online pharmacies

A paid “news release” this week by the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) and LegitScript and widely disseminated by PR Newswire– deceitfully and incorrectly associated PharmacyChecker.com with a federal indictment involving the wholesale operations of a Canadian company. A former consultant to PharmacyChecker.com was, unfortunately, swept up in this indictment for an action having nothing to do with his work with PharmacyChecker.com (see our posting about the indictment). But even though PharmacyChecker, nor any of its executives or employees, are the subject of the recent indictment or even mentioned in it, ASOP and LegitScript, who we see as sharks for Big Pharma and Big Pharmacy, could not resist throwing a public relations party, which we believe is aimed at manipulating the media and reporters, government, and worse – consumers!  It appears that they spent a lot of money on a PR firm, ECI Communications, to put together and disseminate lies about PharmacyChecker.com and misleading information about international online pharmacies.

Want proof? After reading ASOP and LegitScript’s deceitfully misleading news release, a writer at the publication Medicine Marketing & Media was apparently duped into writing on Wednesday that PharmacyChecker was being indicted! After we contacted that publication about the inaccuracy, we were swiftly given an apology, the article was corrected, and the following statement posted: “CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed PharmacyChecker.com as a defendant. PharmacyChecker.com is not a defendant in the case.

A renowned expert in First Amendment Law considers the news release “libelous” and ASOP, LegitScript, and ECI have been asked to take it down.  PR Newswire has also been asked to remove it, as it appears to violate PR Newswire’s own guidelines regarding libelous content and this certainly doesn’t help their existing reputation for distributing “low quality content.”  However,  perhaps due to the enormous funding behind these groups, they have yet to make any attempt to correct the situation. We’ll see how much they care about the truth by their actions.

It’s important to keep in mind who these groups are.  ASOP’s members and funders include large pharmaceutical companies and the National Association of Chain Drugstores. To protect their bottom lines, these companies and ASOP lobby congress and federal agencies, such as the FDA, to try to curtail your access to much more affordable and safe medication from outside the U.S. In fact, ASOP is actually located in the offices of the government relations and communications consulting firm FraegreBD, where ASOPs executive director, also happens to be a Vice President. And ECI Communications is a PR firm which does extensive business for U.S. pharmaceutical companies.  Of course LegitScript.com happens to be a founding member of ASOP. Can we trust LegitScript.com or ASOP? Well, you already know who ASOP works for, right? On the other hand, much of LegitScript.com’s income is from a contract with the FDA for $5.2 million. That’s not bad in and of itself but, if that money is being used to spread misinformation to U.S. consumers and lobby congress and maybe even the FDA itself, then that stinks.

The truth is that American consumers are buying medication from outside the U.S., five million of them each year, because many of them can’t afford prices in the U.S. Since 2003, PharmacyChecker.com has been working hard to publish information that helps Americans find safe and affordable medication from these pharmacies. Yet it seems the only safe online pharmacy to ASOP is one that is approved by LegitScript.com, which in turn believes that every pharmacy outside the U.S. that sells into the U.S. including licensed pharmacies in Canada, are not “legitimate” or are “rogue.”

ASOP’s and LegitScript’s vision of “legitimacy” is a nightmare for Americans! Thirty-five million Americans don’t fill a script each year because of cost. A safe online pharmacy is not safe for a consumer who can’t afford the medications it sells. ASOP, LegitScript, the NABP, FDA, etc., can’t wish away the fact that safe international online pharmacies are a lifeline for many American consumers. Scaring these Americans away from safe pharmacy options with misleading and false  information means that more Americans will go without their prescribed medications. There is nothing “safe” or “legit” about that.

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Almost three years ago, we blogged about a federal investigation of CanadaDrugs.com, which for many years has safely sold prescription medication at prices far lower than typically available in the U.S, and which is a verified online pharmacy in the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program. The investigation focused on CanadaDrugs.com’s wholesale drug importation and distribution to doctors and clinics — an area CanadaDrugs.com has long since exited. It did not focus on CanadaDrugs.com’s retail sales to consumers for personal use, which is the focus of the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program and the information we provide to consumers on our website about online pharmacies.

Recently, an indictment was unsealed in federal district court in Montana that charged CanadaDrugs.com, Ltd. (the entity which owns CanadaDrugs.com) and others with illegal wholesale drug importation, which allegedly occurred between three to six years ago.  The allegations include wholesale distribution of a counterfeit version of the cancer drug Avastin to medical clinics in the U.S.

The indictment of CanadaDrugs, Ltd, comes as no surprise, as the investigation was well publicized. It will also come as no surprise, however, when the U.S. pharmaceutical industry tries to use the charges, which focus exclusively on wholesale drug importation, in an effort to discredit safe personal drug importation. As we have written here and opined in the New York Times, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and pharmacy chains feel threatened because Americans can and do safely purchase their medications online at substantially lower cost from pharmacies in other countries. Thus, the industry, the “non-profit” groups it funds, and the government agencies which it lobbies and seeks to influence, will see this indictment as yet one more opportunity to scare people from personal drug importation.  This slight of hand is wrong, since the investigation and indictment have nothing to do with personal drug importation. In fact, even the Wall Street Journal, which was instrumental in publicizing the investigation, clarified the difference between wholesale businesses and CanadaDrugs.com:  “There is no indication that fake medicines were sold through the company’s consumer-focused website, CanadaDrugs.com.”

(more…)

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Last week, Bing announced a new effort to use its search engine to warn consumers about threats from “fake” online pharmacies. The big problem is that at least some of the online pharmacies they list are not fake, but represent very real, licensed pharmacies, ones that require valid prescriptions and have been safely helping Americans afford medication for years. We know this because these pharmacies have been carefully evaluated, inspected, and monitored by us at PharmacyChecker.com, and meet high standards of pharmacy practice. See our standards: http://www.pharmacychecker.com/verification_program_guide_and_standards_1_3.pdf.

The online pharmacies targeted by Bing, which are approved in our program, are all located outside the U.S. Curtailing online access to lower cost and safe foreign medication using scare tactics is a strategy employed by the pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, Bing’s action seems to have a lot to do with stopping safe personal drug importation and will recklessly alarm Americans so they don’t buy more affordable medication from other countries.

Here is the warning which appears when a consumer’s Bing search results include links to one of these online pharmacies and they try to click on the link to that online pharmacy:

FDA Online Pharmacy Warning

To choose the pharmacies it targets, Bing is relying on a list of online pharmacies which have received warning letters from the FDA. But, in at least several cases, these warning letters, which you can find on the FDA’s website, do not indicate a pharmacy to be fake, nor do they pertain to sales of counterfeit or adulterated medications, nor to any problems with the pharmacy meeting good standards of practice. Instead they relate to 1) sales of lawfully manufactured generic versions of drugs that are still on patent in the U.S., and 2) medications that are approved in Canada but not in the U.S. We will examine each of these letters fully over the next week, but our initial review indicates that these issues have been addressed by the online pharmacies in our Verification Program that received the letters.

The genesis of Bing’s action, which is most likely coordinated with the FDA, comes from the scare tactics about foreign medications conceived by pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying largesse. Why else would Bing decide to target only online pharmacies when many other pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufactures, and dietary supplement distributors have also received FDA warning letters for various infractions, yet Bing does not target them with its pop-up warning?

Bing’s actions would be great if the websites it is targeting were all fake or rogue online pharmacies, but they are not. When consumers see Bing’s warning, they will likely do one of three things:

  1. Keep searching for another online pharmacy that charges a price they can afford. They may find one of the tens of thousands of rogue pharmacy websites that don’t require a prescription (but are not included on FDA’s new list) and buy from that one. Then they are far more likely to end up with a counterfeit drug.
  2. Go to their local big chain pharmacy and pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars more for their prescribed medication. The Warning has a link to “safe online health purchases” but those take you to U.S. online pharmacies only, which are often the websites of the big chain pharmacies!
  3. Not take their prescription medication at all. Thirty-five million Americans each year already forgo prescribed medication due to cost.

These are horrible outcomes. Yes, warning Americans about rogue online pharmacies is good public policy. But leading Americans away from safe personal drug importation will just lead to fewer people getting medications they need, more Americans choosing between food and medicine, and larger profits for the big drug companies.

For those interested in a full policy analysis of FDA’s current campaign, please see our report called: “Online Pharmacies, Personal Drug Importation and Public Health.”

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Appearing on Fox and Friends this past Saturday morning, Tod Cooperman, MD, founder of PharmacyChecker.com, discussed our favorite topic – affording prescribed medication. The hosts wanted to know what is behind a recent class action lawsuit against CVS Health Corp in which the chain pharmacy is accused of overcharging consumers on generic drugs and how Americans can prevent getting bilked on price by pharmacies.

 

CVS, like many chain pharmacies, has a prescription discount program, and the discounted prices can often be less than the co-pay required with some pharmacy benefit plans. However, CVS has apparently not been informing customers of the lower, discounted price. What has been happening is that hundreds of thousands of CVS customers have paid more money using their health insurance because the co-payments are higher than the discount program price.

Dr. Cooperman basically informed the public that this is probably a pretty common practice among U.S. chain pharmacies with similar programs. He said: “It’s really kind of ridiculous because you have people with insurance who…are being charged more than if you simply walked in and asked for the cash price or discounted price.” So what do you do? When you go to your local pharmacy, ask the pharmacist or pharmacy technician for the absolute lowest price you can pay. Call different pharmacies in your neighborhood, because generic drugs can sometimes cost five times more at one pharmacy than they do at another.

When medication is not affordable at your local pharmacy, international online pharmacies are an option for savings. Dr. Cooperman stated: “about five million Americans actually are now going outside the U.S. because they can’t afford their prescriptions.” Pharmacies in other countries sell safe and effective medications at much lower prices but rogue websites abound — so stick to verified international online pharmacies and compare their prices on www.pharmacychecker.com. Dr. Cooperman noted the technical illegality of personally importing meds but that the FDA doesn’t “go after consumers for doing it.”

Anna Kooiman, one of the hosts, mentioned that people lose their lives because they can’t afford medication. She added, “Listen, it might be illegal but some people do what they have to do to save their own lives.”

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To hear it from the pharmaceutical industry, Medicare Part D, the federal program that helps American seniors and the disabled cover medication costs, is a highly popular, successful, low-cost program. That’s bunk. According to a new paper, written by authors Marc-Andrew Gagon, PhD. and Sidney Wolfe, MD (Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and Public Citizen, respectively), drug prices covered under Medicare Part D are wildly inflated compared to drug prices in all other countries. Ok. We knew that already. That’s why seniors continue to import medication from other countries! But seriously, this report includes fresh data and critical analysis to reminds us, and hopefully convince Congress, that not only are we paying too much as taxpayers and consumers but Americans often cannot afford to take prescribed medication at all, and that leads to more hospitalizations and higher healthcare costs.

We’ve noted on many occasions the government’s survey data showing that about five million Americans import prescription drugs for personal use due to cost. About 750,000 are seniors, most who are subject to the coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole” of Part D, which, despite improvements under Obamacare, still leads to millions of seniors struggling to afford medication. Their decision to buy more affordable medication internationally makes sense. According to the new report, even the rebated brand name drugs under Part D are almost twice (198%) the cost paid in countries that make up the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – the most advanced economies.

The report is called “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Medicare Part D pays needlessly high brand-name drug prices compared with other OECD countries and U.S. government programs.” You can find it here. (more…)

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Yesterday, in the New York Times, Andrew Pollack reported on the swelling chorus of groups, politicians, and consumers who are sickened by the price of cancer drugs and medication costs generally. They are calling for pharmaceutical companies to justify the outrageous costs of medication.

As part of this swell of frustration and anger about drug prices, over 100 oncologists are calling for the U.S. government to take concrete steps to bring down the prices on expensive cancer medications, many which cost over $100,000/year. One of those steps is allowing importation of cancer drugs across borders for personal use. (What a novel idea!). Despite the federal restrictions on the practice, five million Americans already import prescription drugs across borders for personal use because the costs of medicine are too high domestically. The imports help people afford medications that they would otherwise go without. While people are not prosecuted for doing so as long as the imports are for personal use, expressly legalizing safe prescription importation from licensed pharmacies in other countries is a great idea for all medications, not just cancer medications, and would probably cause medication prices to fall at U.S. pharmacies.

Personal drug importation is just one step among several that doctors are calling on to improve access to affordable cancer medication. Others include allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices like the Veteran’s Administration does; banning deals (“pay-to-delay”) between brand and generic drug companies, in which the former pays off the latter to postpone introducing a lower cost generic drug; and reigning in patent terms so that lower cost generics can come to market faster.

In reading the New York Times article, the tone of criticism reported on was veering toward visceral disgust that so many seem to have with the pharmaceutical industry. But the Wall Street Journal was on this issue, too. In “Doctors Object to High Cancer Drug Prices,” Jeanne Whalen writes: “The doctors focus attention on the financial burden to patients, saying the out-of-pocket costs are bankrupting many just as they’re fighting a deadly illness.”

To conclude, recall that last month we brought you a real story of an American family facing financial ruin due to the cost of a cancer medication. Lisa wrote:

“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.

“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.”

The media coverage mentioned in this post shows that people are bringing this to the press. It’s exactly the press coverage that Lisa and her family deserve, not to mention the tens of millions of Americans who don’t fill prescriptions each year because of cost! Now will the government do something or are they too under the yoke of the pharmaceutical industry lobbying juggernaut?

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Stay safe while shopping for affordable medications online

Stay safe while shopping for affordable medications online

Americans sometimes want to know if rogue online pharmacies, especially foreign ones, REALLY sell bad medication or if it’s just one big conspiracy by the evil pharmaceutical industry to scare Americans away from saving a lot of money. Well, as critical of big pharma’s efforts to scare consumers away from lower cost and safe medication as I have been, the answer is, REALLY, yes. The dangers of buying a fake or otherwise harmful medication online from a foreign or domestic source, or even a real medication when you are not under the supervision of your healthcare provider, are real and serious.

What we know better than most is that consumers, empowered with the right information, can pay a lot less for medication by shopping online, internationally, and also avoid rogue online pharmacies. The right online pharmacy can save a person’s life and their finances because it sells safe medication at much lower cost than a local pharmacy – but the wrong online pharmacy could kill you.

We’ve updated our website’s content about rogue online pharmacies to better inform consumers, healthcare providers, and regulators who want to avoid such sites and teach others how to do so as well. We do give a list of rogue online pharmacies but it is far from comprehensive. Other companies and organizations spend a lot of effort compiling lists and identifying rogue online pharmacy sites (with tens of thousands of websites, many defunct): PharmacyChecker.com is in the business of verifying and identifying the safest and most affordable online pharmacies, not listing the thousands of rogue ones.

As we explain in the updated section of our website, when looking to buy meds online, the best way to avoid a rogue online pharmacy is to stick with websites approved by PharmacyChecker.com and other noted certification and verification organizations, specifically the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies (NABP), LegitScript, and the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). NABP’s VIPPS and LegitScript’s verification program validate safe and legal online pharmacies, but in a variety of ways wrongly conflate rogue sites with safe international online pharmacies, which can actually mislead consumers (see Rx Rights’ report on NABP and Techdirt’s description of LegitScript’s practices). That’s where the pharmaceutical industry conspiracy stuff comes in! CIPA’s online pharmacy standards are similar to, but not the same as, PharmacyChecker.com’s, and many of their members are also approved in our program – but we can’t vouch for those that are not. Regardless of the differences, all of us want to see consumers avoid dangerous drug-selling websites often referred to as rogue online pharmacies – and some of us also want to maximize your online access to safe and affordable medication!

Photo Credit: © Peterhermesfurian | Dreamstime.comPoison Pill Package Skull Photo

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FDA Warns about “Potentially” Counterfeit Diazepam in Central Africa; We Say Buy Locally and Save!

This diazepam - generic Valium - is really haloperidol.

This diazepam – generic Valium – is really haloperidol.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning last week that a drug product sold in Central Africa, mislabeled as diazepam, which was actually the drug haloperidol (for schizophrenia), had caused 700 adverse reactions, such as acute contractions of the muscles in the face and neck. While there are no reports that the product entered the U.S., FDA cautioned Americans who take diazepam that it could, potentially, be sold over the Internet and to be on the lookout for the pills you see in the image to your left. Sound advice!

For the backstory checkout the World Health Organization’s Medical Product Alert.

Diazepam is the generic name for the anti-anxiety medication commonly known as Valium. It is a controlled prescription drug, meaning one associated with abuse use and addiction.

We recommend to U.S. and all consumers that you not buy controlled medication internationally from an online pharmacy. Online pharmacies that sell Valium, and all controlled drugs, internationally are not eligible for the PharmacyChecker.com Verification Program. (more…)

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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 – which causes millions of Americans to go without needed medication and face financial hardship – 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 thinking about the happiness of saving money and the fact that Thomas Jefferson was talking, at least in part, about financial health and security when he penned this phrase. But saving money is not just about getting a “better deal” although there is nothing wrong with that. 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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