Americans can’t afford U.S. medication, need a safe alternative
This opinion piece was originally published on The Hill’s Congress blog, November 12, 2014
Prescription drug prices have reached record levels, putting Americans at risk. U.S. citizens have long had to cope with excessive brand name drug prices and more and more can’t rely on generic drugs being affordable—as generic prices have been spiking dramatically. Increasingly, the only affordable option is personal importation of medications using international online pharmacies. Unfortunately, this alternative is under attack by large pharmaceutical companies who fear they will lose their vice-like grip on the U.S. market.
Bloomberg conducted a survey earlier this year of average wholesale prices on brand name drugs, which found that 73 top branded drugs had price increases of 75 percent or more from late 2007 to early 2014. Historically, generic drugs have offered cash-strapped patients a viable alternative for many medications. But a recent analysis published by the Drug Channels Institute found that half of all generic drugs rose in price during the last year—one as much as 1,700 percent—prompting an investigation by Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Their inquiry focuses on 10 specific drugs that have experienced considerable price jumps.
The number of people who simply can’t afford the price of U.S. medicine has already been growing at an alarming rate. Twenty percent of all Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills. Medical bills are now the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. Yet, somehow, the pharmaceutical industry does not recognize the role they play in this problem. As insurers start to pass on costs to patients, the situation will continue to deteriorate. Unaffordable medicine has sparked a public health crisis.
According to the Commonwealth Fund, 50 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 skipped filling a prescription due to cost in 2012. A recent Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs poll found that the high cost of medicine compels Americans to take unnecessary health risks and forces families to make impossible choices, such as having to decide whether to buy medication or groceries.
While there hasn’t been adequate research to measure the sickness that results specifically from medication nonadherence due to cost, common sense dictates that if at least 50 million Americans are not taking their medication as prescribed by their doctors there will be negative health consequences. Seniors on ﬁxed incomes and the millions of Americans who lack adequate health insurance are especially affected by lack of access to affordable medications.
For countless Americans, personal importation is currently the only avenue for immediate relief from the problem of unaffordable medicine. Research has shown that importation from legitimate, verified international online pharmacies can be a safe and affordable option for Americans. Medications from legitimate international pharmacies cost an average of 50 percent less than the exact same products found in American pharmacies. It’s estimated that five million Americans each year already rely on importation to access the medications they need at prices they can afford.
For years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has looked the other way on this issue, quietly permitting the importation of small amounts of prescription drugs for personal use. But their recent actions jeopardize this crucial lifeline for patients that need affordable medicine. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John McCain (R-AZ) recently introduced S.2549, the ‘‘Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2014.” This bill would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to allow for personal medication importation from Canada. It also requires that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services create rules to enable and facilitate the importation of safe and affordable medicine. For example, the agency would be tasked with creating a list of approved Canadian pharmacies.
A list of safe pharmacies would be a valuable tool for those who struggle to afford their needed medications. While it’s true there are dangerous rogue entities posing as pharmacies and selling counterfeit or substandard drugs, it’s also true that licensed and safe international online pharmacies exist. Why not help Americans find safe pharmacies so they can afford their medications and avoid the greater harm of bankruptcy and preventable health crises?
Lee Graczyk is lead organizer for RxRights, a national coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting and protecting American access to sources of safe, affordable prescription drugs. The RxRights website has information about how to choose a safe online pharmacy as well as testimonials from Americans who depend on medication importation.