For someone who believes that Donald Trump’s actions, especially recent ones, have threatened the core of our democracy, it’s difficult to admit that the Twitter ban against him strikes a nerve with me. Getting right to the point: in the summer of 2018, Instagram shut down PharmacyChecker’s account. PharmacyChecker, which I co-founded in 2002, is a small, independently-funded online pharmacy verification and drug price comparison website. One of its claims to fame is providing information for consumers that can help them safely obtain lower-cost prescription drugs from other countries. PharmacyChecker helps people avoid rogue pharmacy websites and save money. So why did Instagram shut it down?
Germane to the matter is the fact that under most circumstances federal law prohibits the importation of prescription drugs for personal use. However, federal law makes many allowances to permit it anyway, despite the prohibitions. Tens of millions of Americans have imported medicines for personal use and none have been prosecuted for doing so. PharmacyChecker does not import, sell, distribute, process orders for medication in any way. It provides information. That information may be controversial but it’s not illegal. Nonetheless, it poses a threat to the pharmaceutical industry, which needs Americans to pay the highest prices on drugs to maintain their incredible profit margins. You see where this goes.
This week the prices of over 500 drugs went up in America, according to drug price transparency non-profit organization 46Brooklyn. This happens every year, usually coinciding with shouts of anger and disgust with the pharmaceutical industry’s greed. The shouts are muted this year, probably because, like it or not, we’re counting on Big Pharma to manufacture enough Covid-19 vaccines to end the pandemic. But the battle against high drug prices continues. Godspeed.
The median price increase reported was 4.6%, slightly lower than last year’s increase but about eight times the estimated inflation rate for 2020 of 0.62%. If you’re thinking I’m going to start talking about importing drugs from Canada now, you’re wrong – as helpful as that remains for Americans who go that route individually. [There’s an importation surprise at the end of this post for you, however.]
Here’s a kind of funny story to end the year with. I make a big deal on these pages about the decriminalized reality of personal drug importation. Federal law prohibits under most circumstances importing prescription drugs for your own use, but people are never busted for it. I’ve been around this a long time and I mean never. But that’s for personal use only. Recently, 20 U.S. air marshals in Dallas, Texas were disciplined for “smuggling” Viagra into the United States. They bought it at lower prices outside the U.S., brought it back, and gave it to their colleagues or sold it for a “small profit,” as reported in Yahoo News. So, are they in any real trouble?
It appears the answer is not really—at least not yet. The names of the air marshals are not public because they have not been charged with a crime. Some were suspended for a few days. One resigned. No one was terminated. However, two may be terminated based on “evidence uncovered during the investigation.” I would guess that those two were dabbling in the resale of stronger pharmaceuticals.