In his article for AFRO – “A Growing National Outcry for Lower Prescription Drug Prices” – we were pleased to be noted by Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) as a supporter of the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015, and one of several organizations, including Public Citizen, Families USA, and Knowledge Ecology International that “speak of millions of Americans.” The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is a candidate for the Democratic Primary.
Rep. Cummings highlights the fact that American public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of legal and regulatory reform to bring down drug prices. His legislation calls for Medicare to negotiate drug prices with drug companies, ending “pay-to-delay” deals, which are often characterized as payoffs from brand to generic drug companies to postpone introducing a lower cost generic, and reforming drug importation laws to expand our access to lower cost medications in other countries.
PharmacyChecker.com is not taking sides in a partisan fashion. Republicans, Democrats, and independents agree on the urgency of tackling drug prices in America. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Charles Grassley (R-IW), and David Vitter (R-LA) have all introduced and sponsored drug importation reform legislation over the past few years that we support. Another example is Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who wrote an op-ed strongly in favor of legal reform of drug importation to help Americans buy lower cost medications from Canada.
The most critical factor is that we move in the right direction towards expanding access to affordable medication, and we salute Congressman Cummings for doing so.
“Abstract pills” by Robson – Flickr
We issued a press release yesterday about our new drug price savings analysis, which shows that consumers can save 84% on average among a basket of 10 popular branded maintenance medications if purchased from verified international online pharmacies instead of local U.S. pharmacies. Many of the savings are over 90%! The greatest savings is 94% for the acid-blocking drug Nexium ($946.50 in the U.S. vs. $53.09 online for a three month supply of 40 mg pills) and the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor ($803.89 vs. $51.40 – 20 mg pills). The greatest dollar savings is for the antipsychotic drug Abilify ($3,178.99 vs. $237.05 – 10 mg pills). The average annual savings per drug is $3,479. Despite this, last month, the U.S. FDA announced a “new rule” regarding its expanded authority to destroy personally imported medicine under Section 708 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety Act of 2012. Several members of congress have raised concern that FDA’s rules may impede access to affordable medication. 
The FDA says that its new regulation is meant to protect patients from unsafe medications and counterfeit drugs but the agency doesn’t seem to say how they will distinguish safe from potentially unsafe personal drug imports.
For the full press release, click here.
Prices for a 3-month supply of top-selling brand name medications
||Local U.S. Pharmacy Price
||International Online Pharmacy Price*
||International Online Savings
|Advair Diskus 250/50mcg (180 doses)
|Spiriva Handihaler 18mcg
|Ventolin HFA 100mcg
|Lantus Solostar 15ml
Sources: Local pharmacy prices based on prices at chain drugstores in New York City; International online pharmacy prices based on lowest prices listed on PharmacyChecker.com. All prices obtained on September 30, 2015.
*Medications dispensed by licensed pharmacies, verified by PharmacyChecker.com, in one of the following countries Australia, Barbados, Canada, India, Mauritius, New Zealand, Turkey, Singapore, or United Kingdom.
 U.S. Senator David Vitter, “Vitter Fights to Keep Prescription Drug Prices Affordable Through Reimportation,” July 9, 2014 [press release], see [www] vitter.senate.gov/newsroom/press/vitter-fights-to-keep-prescription-drug-prices-affordablethrough-reimportation [Last accessed 9/20/14]. 38 Representative JoAnn Emerson (MO), “Food and Drug Administration Reform Act.” May 30th 2012. See [www] votesmart.org/public-statement/702416/food-and-drug-administration-reform-act-of-2012#.UxVJN-co4s9 [Last accessed 9/22/14]. Letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by Congressman Keith Ellison dated July 1st, 2014. See See [www] regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2014-N-0504-0022.
Well, here we go again, another bill that would formally legalize a practice that has been going on for decades: Americans importing meds from Canadian pharmacies, at the very least to cut down on their drug bills, and in some cases even to afford life-saving medicines. Sorry to sound cynical, but I’ve seen these bills before and Big Pharma is always behind their failure – but what about this time?
The bill, H.R. 2228, was introduced by Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) barely a week ago and co-sponsored by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and is entitled “Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2015.” It seems to mirror legislation in the Senate, S. 122, introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-NV) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), which has the same title.
The bills are focused on Canadian pharmacies only, not the wider landscape of international online pharmacies, which are often based in Canada: ones that millions of Americans have benefited from for over a decade. If H.R. 2228 passes, the FDA would be required to publish a list of approved Canadian pharmacies from which Americans could legally import, for personal use, non-controlled, non-biologic, and non-temperature sensitive, prescription medications. That would include the majority of maintenance prescription drugs that Americans are currently importing for personal use.
I support this bill 100%. Even though our program is open to safe and licensed pharmacies in other countries, not just ones in Canada and the U.S., the new bill moves the public policy and economic justice needle in the right direction. The practice of international pharmacy began with Americans crossing the border to buy lower cost medications in Canada and then, with the advent of the Internet, buying through mail order. Current law, technically, bans the practice and, unjustly, views it as a criminal act – even though no one has been prosecuted for it. The new bill in the House and Senate would lift the unethical ban on buying lower cost medications for their own use from Canada. Amen and Word Up to that!
So head on over to RxRights.org to contact your elected representatives and let them know you want them to vote for the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2015!
Is it legal to order medications online? Yes. If you live in the U.S., you can legally order medications online for mail order, such as from Walgreens or CVS. Is it legal to order medications from an online pharmacy located in a foreign country – to personally import it? Technically, no; but people who import small quantities of prescription medication for their own use, according to the FDA, are not prosecuted for doing so. There are a lot of nuances and quirky details when it comes to laws and regulations that apply to online pharmacies. Some laws are there to protect your health and safety; others seem more bent on protecting the profits of big drug companies – and there’s a lot in between. It’s complicated.
So 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…
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].