[Ip-health] Here’s how the drug industry funds ‘experts’ to discredit efforts to lower prices

Gabriel Levitt gabriel.levitt at gmail.com
Wed Feb 20 09:51:23 PST 2019

An excellent, concise expose by Wendell Potter about Pharma-funded
initiatives and organizations specifically dedicated to false information
about drug importation, counterfeit drugs, and buying lower-cost medicines




Here’s how the drug industry funds ‘experts’ to discredit efforts to lower

Big Pharma dresses wolves in sheep's clothing to keep drug prices high.
Don't be deceived. Learn how to sniff them out.

By Wendell Potter

About a quarter of Americans don’t take their drugs when they should
because the prices of those medicines are too high. People are literally
dying from high drug prices, yet the cry for drug price relief has spurred
little substantive change from Washington. I have a hunch as to why.

Large contributions to members of Congress is commonly identified as the
method employed by drug companies to influence lawmakers. A lesser known,
yet just as important, scheme is how they influence what we read about drug
prices via the production of op-eds by “experts” whose work is funded by
drug companies. One target of their work: legislation that would allow the
importation of safe, cheaper drugs into the U.S. Drug companies have spun
the public into believing the sale of counterfeit drugs and the opioid
crisis will be worsened by passing legislation to help people buy safe,
regulated and affordable drugs from overseas.

The pharmaceutical industry wants us to believe that all imported drugs are
counterfeit. The effort to attack drug importation began in in the early
2000s to thwart the growing numbers of Americans buying medication online
from Canada. In 2003, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of
America (PhRMA) commissioned focus groups on how to discredit importation.
They found that patient fear of buying a bad medicine online was a greater
deterrent than the fact importation of drugs is illegal. Ads began
appearing in popular magazines to scare consumers about importing drugs.

In 2005, PhRMA actually commissioned the writing of a fiction novel in
which terrorists taint the Canadian drug supply to kill Americans looking
for better prices. The endeavor imploded over disagreement with the
publisher. A novel was eventually written, The Karasik Conspiracy, but with
a drug company as the lead villain polluting Canada’s drug supply and
blaming Muslim terrorists.

In a recent op-ed that is a direct descendent of those focus groups, Sally
Pipes from the Pacific Research Institute writes: “It’s estimated that 1
million people die at the hand of counterfeit drugs every year, many of
which come from Canada.” This claim (without any source to back it up)
shocks the conscience. Deaths from counterfeits are almost exclusively in
low-income countries and estimated in the 10s, maybe 100s of thousands,
according to the World Health Organization. A much smaller number of
deaths, one estimate from 2015 showing nine, from online orders of
controlled drugs through overdose (of real drugs) and use of counterfeit
drugs, but always from rogue online pharmacies. No deaths are acceptable
and counterfeits must be combatted. On the other hand, there have been zero
deaths reported from people buying medicines online from licensed
pharmacies in Canada or any international pharmacy that requires a valid

It’s worth noting who supports Ms. Pipes’ efforts. The president of the
Pacific Research Institute, her organization draws support from drug
industry players like Pfizer, PhRMA and Altria as well as other corporate
titans like the Koch Brothers, Chevron, AT&T and Exxon Mobil. Decide for
yourself whether Ms. Pipes statements are free of bias.

There are non-profit organizations funded by drug companies specifically
dedicated to public policy about online pharmacies, counterfeit drugs and
importation. They spread misinformation. For example, the Alliance for Safe
Online Pharmacies, which was founded by Eli Lilly, a leading U.S. drug
manufacturer, and the National Association of Chain Drugstores (think Big
Pharmacy), pushes a so called “fact” — one that the group wrongly once
attributed to the World Health Organization – that 50% of medicines
purchased online from websites that conceal their addresses are
counterfeit. The WHO never conducted a study that led to that finding or
anything like it.

There’s also the Partnership for Safe Medicines — which until just a few
years ago was led by a vice president of PhRMA. In its earlier years, the
Partnership focused on creating media and pushing op-eds to show
importation as a dangerous policy. Today, it focuses on the public health
crisis of opioid addiction and overdose (a crisis that multiple lawsuits
allege was created by its funders, drug companies) conflating prescription
drug importation of regular, non-addictive drugs with illegal opioid drug
imports from China. Such conflation has actually led to the FDA seizing the
prescription import orders of patients.

All of these groups and pharma-funded op-ed writers ignore the reality of
safe personal drug importation that clearly helps people afford medication
today. Peer-reviewed research, from the conservative American Enterprise
Institute, shows that international online pharmacies verified by
U.S.-based PharmacyChecker.com or members of the Canadian International
Pharmacy Association are just as safe as medication sold in the U.S. – and
a lot less expensive.

There are also self-insured personal drug importation programs and pharmacy
“storefront offices” in Florida which Americans are using to buy drugs
internationally. Those programs are saving up to hundreds of millions of
dollars each year. An FDA “sting” of this personal drug importation process
led to the testing of imported medicines. All drugs tested turned out to be
safe and accurately labeled.

I for one don’t believe drug importation is the answer to high drug prices.
However, it’s a piece of the puzzle and one that people are already
benefiting from. We can’t let the drug industry continue its unchecked
propaganda against the safe, evidence-based importation of cheaper drugs
from online pharmacies. The pharmaceutical industry — and the shills the
drug industry is using to spread its propaganda — need to be called out so
Americans can finally enjoy the drug price relief they deserve to stay
healthy and alive.

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