Big Pharma Takes Advantage of the Surge in Opioid Deaths With New Bill

Written by Lucia Mueller | Posted December 23, 2021

The Domain Reform for Unlawful Drug Sellers (DRUGS) Act, like most bill monikers, sounds like it should be passed yesterday, but that’s only Step One of the lobbying smoke and mirrors game. Step Two: a quick summary of our good intentions

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Domain Reform for Unlawful Drug Sellers (DRUGS) Act (S. 3399) to provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to suspend websites run by criminal networks that traffic fentanyl, counterfeit medications, and other illegal drugs.”

With opioid deaths only surging during the Covid-19 pandemic, this sounds like an excellent idea. But here’s the thing: the FDA already has a program for tackling online opioid drug dealers. So what’s this really about? For those that are familiar with pharmaceutical industry antics, a quick glance at the bill’s backers makes it quite clear. The DRUGS Act was probably drafted with the express goal to curtail Americans’ online ordering of non-addictive, non-opioid, more affordable medicines. Medicines, by the way, that help patients actually take the medication they’re prescribed instead of balking at U.S. pharmacy prices and proceeding to ration or skip critical drug therapies. It all sounds cartoonishly sinister, but Gabriel Levitt, president of, puts it quite plainly on Policy Prescription

Drug companies and big chain pharmacies don’t want the competition of lower drug prices offered by international online pharmacies because it means lower profits. They want the FDA to shut down those sites, but, it seems, under current law, the international online pharmacies used to facilitate importation are not illegal. To shut them down, they need a new law such as the DRUGS Act. The bill would empower the FDA and other federal agencies, and organizations or private companies they deputize, to effectively shut down an online pharmacy in another country that sells lawful medicines and requires valid prescriptions if they sell to patients in the United States.”

Pharma-funded Organizations Endorsing the DRUGS Act

Never mind the fact that they most likely had a hand in drafting the bill language, below are the organizations that publicly endorse the DRUGS Act. Notice that these organizations are named in much the same manner as the bills they back: they invoke thoughts of a do-no-harm group of honest actors. And yet their connection to the pharmaceutical industry, be it through funding or membership, makes their supposed missions a bit questionable.


Ties to the Pharmaceutical Industry

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) From the archives: “Leaders Contributed $100,000 or more to support the initiative.
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Merck & Co, Inc
  • Pfizer Inc
“Advocates Contributed $25,000 or more to support the initiative.
  • Gilead
  • Janssen Therapeutics
“Endorsers Submitted letter of support to ICANN or otherwise publically expressed support.
  • Amgen Inc
  • Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies
  • British Brands Group
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • DrugSource, Inc
  • European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines
  • Indiana Board of Pharmacy
  • International Pharmaceutical Federation
  • Ipsen Pharma
  • LegitScript”
  • National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities
  • North Dakota State Board of Pharmacy
  • Novo Nordisk, Inc
  • Rx Direct, Inc
  • Sanofi”
Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP) ASOP was launched with money from Eli Lilly, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (think Walgreens and CVS), and LegitScript. ASOP’s membership: ASOP Global Members
  • American Pharmacists Association
  • American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
  • Amgen
  • Association for Accessible Medicines
  • Black Women’s Health Imperative
  • BlueChew
  • Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  • Consumer Health Information Corporation
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines
  • G2
  • The Gerontological Society of America
  • Gilead Sciences, Inc.
  • Hers
  • Hims
  • Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety
  • The International Alliance for Patients’ Organizations
  • International Pharmaceutical Federation
  • Italian Medicines Agency
  • LegitScript
  • Men’s Health Network
  • Merck & Co., Inc.
  • NABP Solutions LLC
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • National Association of Chain Drug Stores
  • National Consumers League
  • National Council for Mental Wellbeing
  • NeedyMeds
  • NOVA ScriptsCentral
  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
  • Center for Medication Safety Advancement
  • RefillWise
  • Ro
  • RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
  • Takeda Pharmaceuticals
  • U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP)
  • Visa, Inc.
  • Young People in Recovery (YPR)
  ASOP Global Observers
  • American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
  • Federation of State Medical Boards
  • National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
  • National Association of State Controlled Substance Authorities
  • National Health Council
  • Partnership for Safe Medicines
  • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
  • Pharmaceutical Security Institute
  • RX-360
Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) PSM is conspicuously tied to the pharmaceutical industry:
  • Patients for Affordable Drugs
    • "Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) touts itself as a coalition of non-profit organizations fighting the importation of unsafe medicines.91 PSM says it’s entirely funded by member dues, but refused to say how much each member, including PhRMA, contributed."
  • Kaiser Health News
    • “A PhRMA senior vice president, Scott LaGanga, for 10 years led the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a nonprofit that has recently emerged as a leading voice against Senate bills that would allow drug importation from Canada. LaGanga was responsible for PhRMA alliances with patient advocacy groups and served until recently as the nonprofit’s principal officer, according to the Partnership’s tax forms.”
  • Bloomberg News
    • “In 2017, the nonprofit’s annual budget jumped twentyfold, to $7.3 million. The group says it’s entirely funded by dues from its 49 member organizations, including PhRMA, but it doesn’t disclose how much each member pays.”
National Consumers League (NCL) Among the NCL’s Health Advisory Council for 2020 is a list of multinational drug corporations, including PhRMA itself: Platinum Members
  • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
  • Abbvie
  • Amgen
  • Lilly
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Mylan
  • Pfizer
Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) From PSI’s website:  “Today, PSI membership includes thirty-seven pharmaceutical manufacturers from many nations.” “To provide quality information on a consistent basis, PSI shares information with the public through its collaboration with the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM).”
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (IFPW) IFPW includes drug companies as members: 
  • AstraZeneca - United Kingdom
  • Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals - United States
  • GlaxoSmithKline - United States
  • Johnson & Johnson - United States
  • Merck Inc. - United States
  • Viatris, Inc. (formerly Mylan) - United States
  • Pfizer, Inc. - United States
  • Sanofi - France

Disclosure: PharmacyChecker has sued NABP, and pharma-funded groups, such as the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies and Partnership for Safe Medicines in an antitrust action alleging that they conspired against PharmacyChecker to censor our online pharmacy verification and drug price information.

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