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Prescription drug prices are the number one healthcare concern in America. In 2014, 35 million Americans did not fill a prescription due to cost. According to a survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kaiser Foundation, more than half of all Americans who do not take prescription medications because of cost report becoming sicker. This means that potentially 17.5 million Americans become sicker each year because they can’t afford their prescription medication.
As a result of high drug prices, and despite federal prohibitions, millions of Americans are importing prescribed medications: about four million a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Are these Americans putting their health at risk or just buying lower cost medication?
Maine pharmacist Kenneth McCall claims that opportunities to access safe and more affordable medications outside of the U.S. are too risky. But this is inaccurate. The international online marketplace is a boon to Americans who are beholden to the inflated and rising prices of medications sold in the U.S. With many medications found online coming in at 90 percent less than those found in the U.S., consumers should have the right to decide which option is best for their own health and the health of their families.
Medications purchased online from licensed pharmacies outside the U.S. are the exact same as, or foreign versions of, those found here but much more affordable. These include maintenance medications for chronic conditions, such as Januvia for diabetes, Advair Diskus for COPD and Abilify for people battling depression.
For other medications, the needs are more acute and life-saving. Consider Turing Pharmaceuticals’ decision to raise the price of a drug called Daraprim, which can be an essential medication for treating cancer and AIDS, from $13.50 to $750 per pill overnight. The opportunity to access Daraprim via the international online marketplace for only $6 per pill from licensed pharmacies in the UK became not only smart, but potentially vital. Interestingly, the international Daraprim available for sale at a discount of over 99 percent is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline in Europe – not an unknown or scurrilous company.
In line with Mr. McCall’s position, many global pharmaceutical companies and U.S. pharmacy chains, however, would have consumers believe otherwise because it benefits their own interests: namely their bottom lines. They and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration argue that the threat of counterfeit and unapproved drugs is so overwhelming that we ought to prevent the purchase of lower cost medication from other countries. This dangerous line of attack can hurt the public health because it scares people from accessing more affordable medication online that they will then have to forgo.
There’s no question that people are harmed by fake, adulterated and substandard drugs. But the evidence of harm is incredibly threadbare after 15 years of Americans importing medication for their own use, which they bought online with a valid prescription. Instead, many millions of consumers have benefited from lower cost, safe and effective medications that keep them healthy and out of debt.
Unfortunately, there are many dangerous prescription-drug selling websites. Often referred to as “rogue,” they do not require a prescription, ship medications from unlicensed and unsafe sources, and are completely unqualified to sell medications. Moreover, criminal actors do intentionally sell counterfeit drugs. Those bad actors need to be stopped and brought to justice.
The pharmaceutical industry would have everyone believe that is where the story ends. But instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, elected leaders, policymakers, and the public health community must look at the reality of the international online marketplace in pharmaceuticals. As millions of Americans have come to know over the past 15 years, safe international online pharmacies exist; they have not only helped Americans save potentially billions of dollars during that time, but are also a lifeline to those who just can’t afford medication locally. And companies like ours – which verifies international online pharmacies – make the decision-making process much more secure and simple.
The scare tactics designed to benefit big multinational pharmaceutical companies are extensive and troubling. High drug prices in the U.S. are devastating American families. Where there are lifelines of affordable medication, such as online, we must tell people the truth. Americans deserve the choice offered by the Internet and should enjoy the drug price competition and justice that it provides.
Gabriel Levitt is the President of PharmacyChecker.com, an independent company that verifies U.S. and international online pharmacies and compares prescription drug prices and the founder of the Prescription Justice Action Group, a non-profit organization that advocates for legislative and regulatory reforms to bring justice to Americans who are struggling to or can’t afford prescription medication.