Making the case for personal importation of safe, affordable prescription medicines from licensed, registered pharmacies in Tier One Countries. Rx for American Health is published by Daniel Hines, an international award-winning communicator with five decades of experience, and the publisher of www.TodaysSeniorsNetwork.com and www.BoomersNewsOnline.com. He also works with progressive senior advocacy groups across the nation to promote the health and well-being of America’s aging population.
Kaiser Poll Show Support for Personal Imporatation
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Nonprofit working to block drug imports has ties to pharma lobby
A nonprofit organization that has orchestrated a wide-reaching
campaign against foreign drug imports has deep ties to the Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the powerful lobbying
group that includes Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Bayer.
The nonprofit, called the Partnership for Safe Medicines,
has recently emerged as a leading voice against Senate bills that would allow
drugs to be imported from Canada.
Both the lobbying group and the nonprofit partnership have
gone to great lengths to show that drugmakers are not driving what they
describe as a grass-roots effort to fight imports, including an expensive
advertising blitz and an event last week that featured high-profile former FBI
officials and a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner.
However, a Kaiser Health News analysis of groups involved in
the partnership shows more than one-third have received PhRMA funding or are
local chapters of groups that have received PhRMA funding, according to PhRMA
tax disclosures from 2013 to 2015.
Forty-seven of the organizations listed in the ads appear to
be advocacy organizations that received no money from PhRMA in those years.
A PhRMA senior vice
president, Scott LaGanga, previously led the Partnership for Safe
Medicines for 10 years. At PhRMA, LaGanga was responsible for the lobbying
group's alliances with patient advocacy groups, and he was simultaneously
listed as the executive director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines on each
of that group's annual tax filings since 2007, the earliest year for which they
are available from ProPublica's Nonprofit Explorer.
LaGanga wrote a 2011
article about the partnership's origins. Published in the Journal
of Commercial Biotechnology, it described "public-private partnerships
in addressing counterfeit medicines." His PhRMA job was not disclosed in
From 2010 to 2014, the organization hosted a conference called
the Partnership for Safe Medicines Interchange. In a video from
a 2013 event, LaGanga thanks pharmaceutical companies, most of them PhRMA
members, for sponsoring the event.
In February, LaGanga moved to a senior role at PhRMA and
stepped down as executive director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, just
as the group's campaign to stop import legislation was revving up.
The partnership's new executive director, Shabbir Safdar,
said LaGanga resigned from the group to avoid the appearance of a conflict of
"That's why Scott's not executive director anymore,"
he said. PhRMA declined to make LaGanga available for an interview.
The Senate push to allow Americans to buy pharmaceuticals from
Canada comes as more patients balk at filling prescriptions because of soaring
drug prices. Prescription medicines purchased in the U.S. can run three times
what they cost in Canada, data from the company PharmacyChecker.com show.
In 2016, about 19 million Americans purchased pharmaceuticals
illegally from foreign sources through online pharmacies or while traveling,
according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Many survey respondents cited
pricing disparities as the reason.
A bill cosponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
would provide a mechanism for Canadian drug manufacturers to sell to U.S.
consumers and pharmacies. Sanders introduced the bill in February. In January,
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also introduced
a bill to allow drug imports from Canada.
In the House, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced a
similar bill to Sanders', along with 23 other Democrats.
The U.S. drug industry has strongly opposed efforts to open
the borders to drug imports, but the PhRMA lobbying group is not mentioned in
the nonprofit partnership's recent advertising blitz against the proposed legislation.
The nonprofit says its grass-roots effort is supported by 170 members,
including professional organizations and trade groups.
The nonprofit describes PhRMA as a dues-paying member with no
larger role in shaping the group's activities. Partnership spokeswoman Clare
Krusing would not say how much each member contributes. PhRMA spokeswoman
Allyson Funk declined to say whether PhRMA funds the partnership.
"PhRMA engages with stakeholders across the health care
system to hear their perspectives and priorities," Funk said. "We
work with many organizations with which we have both agreements and
disagreements on public policy issues, and believe engagement and dialogue are
Campaigning Against Drug Imports
The partnership recently launched its ad campaign, warning
against the alleged dangers of legalizing Canadian drug imports. It includes
television commercials, promoted search results on Google and a full-page print ad in The Washington Post and The
Hill. The group's YouTube
page shows recent commercials targeted to viewers in 13 states.
"We don't disclose specific ad figures, but the campaign
is in the high six figures," Safdar said.
The commercials ask voters to urge their senators to
"oppose dangerous drug importation legislation."
The newspaper ad reads, "Keep the nation's prescription
drug supply safe. Urge the Senate to reject drug importation measures."
Its headline declares that "170 healthcare advocacy groups oppose drug
importation," noting a letter to Congress signed by its members. The ad lists
160 members who signed the letter, and PhRMA's name is not included.
"Having a big membership allows the coalition to present
what looks like a unified show of grass-roots support ... but it does raise
questions about which members of the coalition are really driving and funding
the group's policy-making," said Matthew McCoy, a postdoctoral
fellow at the University of Pennsylvania who studies patient advocacy groups.
The list of groups includes at least 64 trade organizations
representing the biomedical industry, professional associations representing
pharmacists, a private research company and two insurance companies.
One group that signed the letter, the "Citrus Council,
National Kidney Foundation of Florida Inc.," represents a single
volunteer, according to an email from the group. A spokesman for the National
Kidney Foundation of Florida said the volunteer's views contradict the position
of the umbrella group, and said the foundation supports "any sort of drug
importation that allows our patients to have access to drugs at the best
Two of the hepatitis patients' advocacy groups that were
listed, the National Association of Hepatitis Task Forces and the California
Hepatitis C Task Force, are run by the same person, Bill Remak. Remak said the
groups receive small amounts of PhRMA funding.
"I don't enjoy having to take this extreme position of
saying we shouldn't import at all, but until we have some oversight regime,
some way of protecting consumers, it's a really tough call," he said.
"Current drug importation proposals do not appear to have
equal safety and chain-of-custody accountability laid out adequately for
patient safety concerns," said William Arnold, president of the Community
Access National Network, which is also listed in the ad and is an advocacy and
support group for people living with HIV/AIDS or hepatitis in Washington, D.C.
His group did not accept money from PhRMA between 2013 to 2015, the Kaiser
Health News analysis found.
Concerns About Safety And Price
Last week, the partnership hosted a panel at the National
Press Club featuring former FBI director Louis Freeh and former FDA
commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach. The discussion focused on the alleged
health and legal dangers of online pharmacies.
"You can talk about lowering prices, but if a drug comes
with a high probability of toxicity and death, that comes at a high cost to the
patient," von Eschenbach said. "That's what's at issue with drug
Each speaker argued that the bill co-sponsored by Sanders
would be harmful to patients. Around the same time that bill was introduced,
the partnership also sent emails to member organizations seeking help to stop
such a measure.
Speakers at the partnership event claimed importation would
lead to a flood of counterfeit medicines laced with arsenic, fentanyl and lead
"These drugs are manufactured in jungles, in tin drums,
in basements. ... Those are the sort of sanitary conditions we're talking about
here," said George Karavetsos, a former director of the FDA's Office of
Both von Eschenbach and Karavetsos have ties to the
pharmaceutical industry. Von Eschenbach left the FDA in 2009 to join Greenleaf Health, which counsels
pharmaceutical clients, before starting his own consulting company, and
Karavetsos counsels pharmaceutical clients at DLA Piper, a
Washington, D.C., law firm.
In an interview, Josh Miller-Lewis, Sanders' deputy director
of communications, refuted Karavetsos' arguments. He said Canadian drugmakers
can apply for licenses, and all drugs would have to come from FDA-inspected
Politico reported in October that PhRMA is bolstering its war chest by another $100
million per year, suggesting to many industry analysts that drugmakers are
gearing up for a ferocious fight.
"I think it's safe to say pharmaceutical corporations are
prepared to spend some fraction of their multibillion-dollar profits to fight
drug importation and any other policy that might end the plague of overpriced
medicine," said Rick Claypool, research director for Public Citizen, a
watchdog group critical of the drug industry.