Patient Safety Advocates Oppose Foreign Online Pharmacies

Last summer the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global) launched a campaign to raise awareness of counterfeit drugs from foreign online pharmacies.  This year, they have drafted a letter to the U.S. Congress to encourage them to oppose proposals that allow American consumers to buy Health Canada-approved medication from “legitimate” Canadian online pharmacies.

IMG_20150417_180452Buying medications from other countries has been an idea proposed to combat the high cost of prescriptions in the United States. Starting in 1999 politicians began filling buses with senior constituents and driving them to Canada, starting with then-Representative Bernie Sanders from Vermont. The seniors would travel with prescriptions written by American doctors; once in Canada, a Canadian doctor would rewrite the prescription and then have it filled at a Canadian pharmacy at a fraction of the U.S. cost. One woman’s breast cancer drug, which cost $110 for a one-month supply in Maine, could be bought in Canada for only $12.

Since the advent of the internet, the process to get prescriptions from across the Canadian border has become seemingly easier but is much more risky. A review of 11,000 websites selling prescription medications to U.S. consumers from 2016 found approximately 96% appear to be in conflict with U.S. law, of which 89% of those didn’t require a valid prescription. With so many illegitimate pharmacies, American consumers have a 65% likelihood of finding an illegal or unsafe site if they search for an online pharmacy. More than putting their health at risk by possibly receiving tainted or counterfeit medication, users of these sites are at higher risk of credit card and identity theft.

ASOP’s concerns are based on their experience that they have found no legitimate Canadian online pharmacies that consistently dispense Health Canada-approved medicines to U.S. consumers. Using a bifurcated supply chain, these pharmacies often fill Canadian prescriptions with the properly-approved medicines but sell U.S. patients products from India, Turkey, or Southeast Asia—often containing toxins or other the improper formulas. As such, there is no legal recourse against these foreign pharmacies.

There are several things to watch out for when looking for an online pharmacy:

  1. Do not use sites that don’t require a valid prescription.

  2. Avoid sites that sell prescription medications by completing an online questionnaire.

  3. Be wary of sites that offer drastically discounted prices; “too good to be true” often is.

  4. Don’t use sites that do not have a licensed pharmacist available for consultation.

  5. Be cautious of businesses that do not display a physical street address.

  6. Avoid websites that offer to ship prescriptions from other countries to the United States.

  7. Do not use online pharmacies that are not verified by the National Association of State Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

  8. Look for websites using the new suffix .pharmacy (instead of .com or .org) or sites displaying the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) Seal. These help consumers know which sites are legitimate at a glance.

For more information about illegal online pharmacies and counterfeit medicines, as well as finding a tool to verify online pharmacies, consumers should visit www.BuySafeRx.pharmacy. For help paying for prescriptions in the United States, patients or caregivers can contact the NeedyMeds toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 or find the information for free on our website at NeedyMeds.org.

About the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) Global

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 11.24.25 AMFounded in 2009, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies is an international 501(c)(4) social welfare organization dedicated to protecting patient safety globally and ensuring access to safe and legitimate online pharmacies in accordance with applicable laws.

Senators Debate Affordable Care Act

This past Tuesday, two U.S. senators and former presidential candidates participated in a televised debate with American health care and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the topic. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) engaged in a town hall style debate primarily on whether the ACA should be repealed and what could replace it.

 

The healthcare law often called Obamacare has been the focus of controversy since its implementation in 2010. The Affordable Care Act was designed to lower the uninsured rate and expand insurance coverage with the ultimate goal of reducing the cost of health care. It removed barriers for many Americans with pre-existing conditions and other underserved communities’ access to health insurance. It faced strong opposition by the GOP, saying it would instead increase healthcare costs and disrupt the current insurance markets. The Republican-majority House of Representatives went so far as to vote over 60 times to repeal the law; none of the attempts were successful.

 

Senator Sanders’ opening remarks highlighted that repealing the ACA would effectively end the coverage of the millions of Americans who are insured because of the law. He went on to say that it is a flawed law that would be improved by a single-payer “Medicare for All” system, which Obamacare acts as a step towards, pointing out that the United States is the only major country on Earth to not guarantee health care to all its people. Senator Cruz pointed to broken promises of the ACA, saying that it increased healthcare costs, made some lose their insurance despite assurances they could “keep their plan if they liked their plan,” and reduced one’s freedom of choice.

 

Cruz and Sanders found some agreement in believing that less expensive medication should be legally bought from countries such as Canada, though they had differing answers when asked by a nurse practitioner why she is forced to pay a high premium and deductible, ostensibly making the insurance useless. Senator Cruz said U.S. healthcare costs are high because it’s so good, saying Sanders’ idea for single-payer health care is akin to government-rationed health care. Senator Sanders responded by saying that health care is already rationed in the United States except its rationed by income, saying those who need procedures but can’t afford them are forced to go without.

 

Senator Sanders often said that health care should be a right to all Americans, whereas Cruz would say that “access to healthcare” is a right. Sanders responded by pointing out that “access” means little if the price is beyond a person’s means; everyone has access to buy a mansion, though it is not a reasonable expense for a majority of Americans.

 

A small business owner asked a question saying that she cannot expand her business beyond 50 employees without being required to pay for their insurance. Senator Sanders was unsympathetic, saying that she should be paying the health insurance for her employees if she breaks the threshold put in place by the ACA. He responded by asking what would happen to an uninsured employee if they got sick; she said she did not know. Senator Cruz agreed with the business owner that Obamacare hurts small business by forcing them to pay for employee benefits, stifling their ability to grow.

 

We at NeedyMeds prefer to remain apolitical—we work in a diverse office with people of varying backgrounds and views—but we believe those in need deserve care. It should be clear that NeedyMeds supports improved access to care as well as lower costs for medications and healthcare services for all.

 

The NeedyMeds website has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), Diagnosis-Based Assistance (DBAs), and Free/Low-cost/Sliding-scale Clinics to help those in need. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or a smartphone app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Eastern Time at 1-800-503-6897.

American Heart Month

February marks American Heart Month in the US.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, affecting Americans of all backgrounds. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 42 seconds and someone dies from heart-disease related causes every minute. During American Heart Month, everyone is encouraged to examine their heart health and take charge with heart-healthy behavior.

There are a number of risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are major risk factors for one’s heart health. Almost half of Americans (47%) are affected by at least one of these risks. A diagnosis of diabetes also comes with increased risk of heart disease, as well as poor diet, obesity, and excessive alcohol use.

There are different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common diagnosis, resulting from plaque buildup inside of arteries. Others are affected by arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat; congenital heart defects; cardiomyopathy, or weak heart muscles; heart valve problems; heart infections; or cardiovascular disease.

file4671234819876The first step in being aware of your heart health is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Regular check-ups—even when you are not sick—can give great insight into one’s overall health and is a great opportunity to ask questions about improving your health. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol and set goals with your doctor if they are high. Regular exercise and healthy eating can greatly improve one’s heart health. Start walking every other day, control portion sizes with meals while eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting fats and sodium. Quitting smoking can cut one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and not starting leaves one at a distinct advantage. Lastly, take any blood pressure or cholesterol medications as prescribed. It is important to take them as directed by your doctor to ensure the most benefit to your heart health. Getting a full night’s sleep and reducing stress can also have an impact on your overall heart health.

 

One out of every four deaths in the United States is from heart disease. Awareness can save lives and can take many forms. This Friday, February 3, is the fifteenth annual National Wear Red Day meant to bring national attention to heart health, particularly in women, encouraging Americans to wear red this Friday for awareness.

 

Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States over $207 billion each year in healthcare costs, medications, and lost productivity. NeedyMeds’ Disease Information Page for Heart Disease has information on the assistance available for those in need, including Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer medications for low or no cost as well as Diagnosis-Based Assistance. Support can also be found in our State Sponsored Program, including the CDC’s WISEWOMAN program to provide low-income, under-insured/uninsured women with chronic risk blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. For those working towards better heart health and need help remembering to take prescribed medications on time, NeedyMeds’ Alert app can keep you informed on when you need to take your medicine or even get a refill. Use our website to find assistance or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Cervical Health Awareness Important for All

January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month in the United States. With all women being at risk for cervical cancer, it’s important to be mindful of the health risks, symptoms, and resources available to those in need. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 12,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 die from it annually.

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The main cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed between people through sex or any genital skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus. HPV is so common that most people will have it at some point during their lives without ever developing symptoms. About 90% of cases are cleared naturally by the immune system within two years; however, there is no way of knowing which individuals will go on to develop health problems.

Some strains of HPV can cause warts around genitals or in one’s throat, while others can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal—possibly leading to cancer over time. Other factors that can increase your risk for cervical cancer are smoking, having HIV, using birth control pills for an extended time (five or more years), or giving birth to three or more children.

The most important thing one can do to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21. Regular Pap tests performed by a doctor are the main defense against cervical cancer. There are vaccines for HPV that can greatly decrease the chances of contracting the potentially malignant virus available to pre-teens and young adults. Safe sex practices can also reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of infection for both cervical cancer and HPV.

Cervical Health Awareness is important for more than just straight/cisgender women  Transgender men are also at risk for cervical cancer if they still have a complete or partial cervix or if they have a history of cervical cancer, precancerous conditions, or HPV. Transgender people can experience additional barriers to screening such as discrimination and disrespect—one in five trans men report being refused health care based on their gender identity—which can cause many to postpone or avoid preventative care. Testosterone treatments common for trans men can also cause changes in the cervix that may appear precancerous, making the results of Pap tests difficult to interpret. Trans women who have undergone “bottom” surgery can also be at risk for cervical cancer depending on the type of surgery and the kind of tissue used to create one’s cervix. Transgender individuals should speak with their healthcare provider to see if a Pap test or comparable cancer screenings would be appropriate for them.

In a previous blog post, we featured the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a national government initiative that provides free or low-cost screenings for those who qualify and gives access to treatment through Medicaid for women diagnosed with cancer through the program. We had another blog covering Planned Parenthood’s many important services, including cervical cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood performed 378,692 Pap tests in 2013 alone. NeedyMeds has information on over 500 Planned Parenthood clinics; search your zip code for locations in your area.

Cervical Health Awareness is a nationally important matter. Women should be encouraged to get their well-woman visit with their doctor this year and be told of the resources available if they need help. Parents should know the HPV vaccine can also greatly decrease their children’s risk of contracting cervical cancer. For more resources, check our website Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Healthcare After U.S. Election

We are getting further away from Election Day in the U.S. and getting closer to 2017, when many of the changes voted on will take effect.  Americans voted on much more than president this past November that will impact our nation’s healthcare; several states voted to allow or expand cannabis (aka marijuana) use for medicinal purposes, Colorado weighed in on assisted suicide, and California proposed price caps on prescription medications.

Colorado became the fifth state to allow a person with a terminal illness to receive a prescription for life-ending drugs from a doctor, with two-thirds of Colorado voters supporting the “End of Life Options” law. The law was modeled after Oregon’s 22-year-old “Death with Dignity” law that requires two physicians to agree the patient is mentally competent and is expected to live fewer than six months.  California, Vermont, and Washington also have similar laws allowing for physician-assisted suicide. Opponents of the law point to a lack of safeguards protecting vulnerable individuals and the possibility insurance companies could begin determining it is more cost-effective to provide medical aid in dying as opposed to lifelong medical care.

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California voters turned down the Drug Price Relief Act by a margin of 46% in favor versus 54% opposed. The law looked to limit what state health programs paid for medications so that they matched the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which receives the steepest discounts in the country. With the cost of prescription medications being a huge issue this election cycle, many analysts cite the impact of pharmaceutical lobbyists in the measure’s defeat, with pharmaceutical companies contributing $68.5 million to the opposition campaign versus the $4.4 donated in support of the measure (mostly from the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation).

This election had four states voting for medical cannabis: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota all passed their referendums. Despite being a Schedule I substance federally, defined as having no accepted medical use, a total of 28 states plus Washington, DC now have cannabis as a medicinal option for patients. Cannabis is mostly prescribed for pain relief but can also be used to treat muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, lack of appetite from chronic illness, seizure disorders, and/or Crohn’s disease.

The biggest voting contest was that for President of the United States, which was won by businessman Donald Trump.  Some Americans have very serious concerns regarding their health care as President-elect Trump ran on a platform of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) and overturning landmark reproductive health rights case Roe v Wade.  He has since softened on his stance on the ACA, saying there are provisions that he likes “very much”—namely, the ban on insurers denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to be insured on their parents’ policies—but remains at odds with many on reproductive rights. During his campaign Donald Trump pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer/STI screenings and prenatal care to hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Trump has named Georgia Representative and orthopedic surgeon Tom Price—an outspoken opponent of the ACA and Planned Parenthood—as nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, who would be responsible for an annual budget of over $1 trillion, health programs that affect over 100 million Americans, regulating food and drugs, and sponsoring biomedical research in the United States. Furthermore, with Republicans controlling the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Oval Office, some fear the dissolution or privatization of programs like Medicare or Social Security that help many elderly or younger Americans with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

We at NeedyMeds expect to grow in the future as the potential need for assistance navigating the sometimes-expensive landscape of health care rises. Our site has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), Diagnosis-Based Assistance (DBAs), and Free/Low-cost/Sliding-scale Clinics to help those in need.  The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or a smartphone app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline: 1-800-503-6897.

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