We recently surveyed Insulin Nation readers about what they have done to obtain insulin and make it last. Many readers indicated that they have purchased insulin online, leading us to wonder about the existing online marketplace for insulin and other prescription drugs. How exactly does it work? Is it legal? Is it safe?
The online marketplace can be used responsibly, according to one advocate. Gabriel Levitt is a co-founder of PharmacyChecker.com, an independent company that verifies U.S. and international online pharmacies and compares drug prices. According to Levitt, public opinion about the online marketplace is shaped by a lot of false information coming from the pharmaceutical industry, and it’s time to set the record straight. He offered these facts about the online marketplace:
1. It’s not uncommon to buy drugs online. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4-5 million Americans per year import drugs for personal use due to cost. While there are no hard statistics on the number of patients purchasing insulin specifically, Levitt says the marketplace for insulin is active.
2. There is price transparency for insulin and other drugs. “We are in the midst of a drug affordability crisis, and Americans need all the help and options they can get,” says Levitt. At present, his organization has verified two Canadian pharmacies that sell insulin, and users can compare prices at each pharmacy.
3. Verified online pharmacies follow industry standards. PharmacyChecker.com has general standards of practice for online pharmacies, as well as a strict policy on temperature-sensitive products, such as insulin. For the latter, the organization considers factors such as packaging and methods of shipment, which impact the potency of insulin. Of course, there is the potential for disruption in the cold supply chain, just as there is for insulin sold in U.S. pharmacies. When asked about a recent study revealing this problem, Levitt noted that “the same principles apply.” He added that this risk increases for imports with longer delivery times. That said…
4. There are no known instances of individuals being harmed from using inulin purchased online from verified pharmacies.
5. You still need an Rx to buy insulin. Although a prescription is not required to purchase insulin in Canada, Americans ordering from the U.S. need to provide this documentation for verified pharmacies.
6. The FDA is not aware of any actions being taken against individuals for buying prescription drugs online for personal use. What could theoretically happen? An individual “could be subject to fines and jail time,” says Levitt. He adds, “The practice of importing a small quantity of medication for personal use is effectively decriminalized.”
To clarify, “there are real threats on the Internet from rogue online pharmacies, including ones that intentionally sell counterfeit drugs and don’t require valid prescriptions.” But contrary to the pharmaceutical industry’s alarmist rhetoric, not all online pharmacies fall into this category.
The industry’s efforts to manipulate public opinion about the online marketplace are well documented. In 2003, The Wall Street Journal reported that industry leaders had hired the public relations firm Edelman to address industry competition from importation. Edelman used focus groups to determine that inciting public fear about the safety of foreign drugs was a better strategy than working to ban drug importation.
Then, in 2005, the industry commissioned an author to write a novel about Muslim terrorists who plot to kill Americans with counterfeit drugs sold by Canadian pharmacies. Unfortunately for the industry, the project never materialized due to creative disagreements with the publisher. And in a twist of fate, the hired author published a book, The Karasik Conspiracy, about a pharmaceutical giant that poisons the Canadian drug supply to prevent Americans from importing.
Since then, Levitt explains, the industry has infiltrated the media with stories that portray international online pharmacies as counterfeit drug pushers. It has done so in collaboration with different industry-funded organizations, such as the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), Diabetes PAC, Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), LegitScript, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the ICANN. Pharmacy program, and Internet Drug Outlet Identification Program. Levitt adds that the industry has even targeted PharmacyChecker by placing Google ads warning against drug importation when people search for PharmacyChecker.
PharmacyChecker has been recommended by AARP, CBS, New York Times, NPR, and more. For more information, visit the company’s website.