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Lawsuit Exposes Alleged Efforts to Keep U.S. Drug Prices High by Blocking Information About Lower Priced Online Options
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Aug. 16, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Brand name medicines often cost 80-90 percent less from licensed pharmacies in Canada and other countries than from pharmacies in the U.S. But, according to a lawsuit filed this week by PharmacyChecker.com in the Southern District Court of New York, an alleged conspiracy involving front groups for Big Pharma is keeping these lower priced drugs out of reach of millions of Americans.
The suit (Case 7:19-cv-07577) alleges that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), LegitScript, and three Pharma front groups are operating a coordinated campaign to suppress market competition, artificially inflate the price of prescription drugs, and spread misinformation to scare consumers away from international online pharmacies. The suit alleges that they have targeted PharmacyChecker.com because it provides patients with a way to reliably identify international online pharmacies that operate safely and direct access to comparative drug price information not limited to U.S. pharmacies.
As described in the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction, the key to the defendants' approach is to attempt to eliminate a distinction between rogue pharmacies and safe international pharmacies—and to ensure that consumers have access to neither. The suit alleges that "Their tactic is to claim that international pharmacies are risky, unsafe, and not to be trusted…"
A hub of the alleged conspiracy is what the complaint refers to as a "blacklist" – the "Not Recommended Sites" list – created by the NABP. NABP's list claims that "Ordering drugs from these websites puts you and your family at risk." The suit alleges that although this blacklist was ostensibly created for the purpose of identifying and blocking dangerous counterfeiters and black market pharmacies, the defendants have instead used it to block legitimate competition.
As alleged in the suit, NABP, ASOP (Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies), LegitScript, and PSM (Partnership for Safe Medicine) successfully persuaded and reached private agreements with key internet gatekeepers belonging to CSIP (Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies), including Internet search companies to incorporate NABP's Not Recommended Sites list into aspects of their search engines, causing the listed sites to be down-ranked in searches and/or flagged on search results pages. The suit characterizes this activity as "shadow regulation."
In December 2019, NABP placed PharmacyChecker.com, which isn't a pharmacy, on the "Not Recommended Sites" list, later adding PharmacyChecker.com's blog site (www.pharmacycheckerblog.com). Subsequently, PharmacyChecker.com lost 87% of search phrases related to online pharmacies for which it had been in the top-three results; for the term "online pharmacy," it fell from #1 in early March to #90. Additionally, a pop-up "WARNING" box in Bing searches began appearing next to PharmacyChecker.com search results. The warning states "The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) includes this site on its Not Recommended Sites list." The warning links to a page sponsored by CSIP featuring a pharmacy search box "Powered by LegitScript." The complaint indicates NABP and LegitScript are competitors of PharmacyChecker for online pharmacy verification services.
The suit alleges many ties among the defendants. For example: ASOP's founding members include pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, LegitScript and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Additionally, it's alleged that NABP regularly participates in ASOP meetings and initiatives. It also indicates "ASOP and LegitScript are responsible for organizing and helping to found CSIP."
Another defendant in the case, Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM), is "a listed observer to ASOP." PSM was described in Kaiser Health News on April 19, 2017: "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 (PhRMA) the powerhouse lobbying group that includes Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Bayer."
PharmacyChecker.com has requested a preliminary injunction ordering NABP to immediately remove PharmacyChecker.com and PharmacyCheckerBlog.com from its "Not Recommended Sites" blacklist and CSIP to immediately accept the revised blacklist, inform its members of the revision, and require them to immediately reflect the changes.
PharmacyChecker.com is represented in the suit by Aaron Gott and Alex Shear of Bona Law PC, an antitrust law firm with offices in San Diego and New York.
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