Monday, July 30, 2012

Why 'we get it' about personal importation

 In a news story about the launch of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), the lead in Fierce Pharma Manufacturing, a well-respected news email about the pharmaceutical industry, noted that  “An organization set up lastyear by some of the largest Internet and credit card companies to fight the  scourge of illegal pharmacies selling counterfeit drugs thinks consumers just don't get it.

Having had more than five decades of experience in communications, and having worked for 12 years on behalf of the right of Americans to engage in personal importation of safe, affordable brand-name medicine from Tier One countries, whose standards of safety and efficacy meet or exceed those of the U.S, I had a sense of, as Yogi Berra used to say , “Dejavu all over again” as I read the statement.


My favorite example was some time ago at a meeting of Former Speaker of the House (and later failed GOP Presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich’s ambitious Center for Health Transformation start-up in Missouri.

After the meeting, I asked his Chief of Staff about the role of personal importation and why the group did not support it as a means of deterring the major price driver of health care costs in the U.S.—rising, unaffordable prescription medicine costs. 

She smiled at me and answered, very condescendingly:  “We don’t want our poor seniors dying like all those pets whose food was contaminated by tainted ingredients from Chinese plants.”

My response: “Do I look like I fell off the turnip truck yesterday?  I asked you a legitimate question about healthcare policy and you talk to me about dog food—which, by the way, many seniors have eaten because they couldn’t afford their medicines!”

She walked away, never to be seen again (at least by me).

But, her spirit, like Marley's ghost , still wanders the earth.  The opening paragraph from the Fierce Pharma Manufacturing article was its latest incarnation.

I must point out that I am not critical of FPM since I am sure its comment merely reflected the fallacy of Pharma’s claims about the ability of Americans to act in a responsible manner when it comes to distinguishing clearly bogus sources of medicines from legitimate sources.

And, despite what the source of the comment about Americans “not getting it,”  I want to assure CISP that, yes we do:















  • ·         We get it that as the industry claims to tout safety, many of its leading members continue to be found guilty of unsafe practices.  The most recent notable example is the travails of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which settled a Department of Justice action for  $3 BILLION!  (For the sake of transparency, at the above referred-to meeting of Newt Gingrich, I met with a director of state legislation for GSK who expressed an interest in outreach to seniors and establishing communications on the role of personal importation. We exchanged several emails regarding how that might be accomplished, since I believed that expanded personal importation could actually be of benefit to Americans by lowering prices, with the expanded use of affordable medicines by Americans actually being beneficial to the industry itself.  Needless to say, the conversations went nowhere, because, as my contact noted, ‘I had said some pretty rough things’ about industry practices. Based on the recent DOJ experience, perhaps GSK should have listened to me.)


  • ·         We get it that the FDA has been charged by many as being instrumental in the shortage of vital medicines that has led to opening new opportunities for gaps in the worldwide supply chain to be exploited by counterfeiters.  (Ironically, the latest example of this, the entry of counterfeit Avastin, a cancer-treating drug, into the American supply, actually was detected and uncovered.  The leakage did not involve an internet pharmacy, although the wholesale operations of Canada Drugs, a leading Canadian internet pharmacy, were involved, and opponents have attempted to seize the situation to disparage the ability to guarantee the safety and efficacy of personally imported medicines.)




















So to our new-found ‘friends’ at CSIP, welcome to the fold.  IF you stick to farrowing out the truly bogus pharmacies, we applaud you.  IF you try to confuse the issue with attacks upon the concept of personal importation, we urge you to be truthful about your real goals.  But don’t think that we don’t get it or that we won't get it..  As I said, we didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.