We see a “Made in China” label on a multitude of items on our store shelves.
But did you ever think that we’d see that label on our pharmaceutical products?
And would it surprise you to know approximately 80% of our drugs — prescription and OTC — are made in China?
It’s paradoxical that once we were held hostage by the Middle Eastern countries for oil, and now we’re dependent on another adversary for our drug and medical products. Where’s our self-reliance?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I ordered some face masks from an online retailer. Six weeks later I received them with a return address of a city in China. Knowing the masks came from the country where the virus originated was not very comforting.
So how and why did we get into this dependent posture?
Simple — labor is cheap and plentiful in China, which is attractive to Big Pharma.
Also, regulations are more lenient in China than the United States, which makes it a “friendlier” manufacturing environment.
This exportation of pharmaceutical manufacturing is a problem that has been exposed by the COVID-19 crisis and a major governmental hearing held last year. Both instances have brought this issue into the spotlight.
Rosemary Gibson, Senior Advisor at the Hastings Center, exposed the serious risks facing the United States due to our over reliance on China for our pharma-ceuticals.
She pointed out that our country’s health security was in jeopardy and cited something surprising to me — we can no longer make penicillin. She related that our country’s last U.S. penicillin fermentation plant closed in 2004. She went on to disclose that a cartel was formed by Chinese companies who conspired to sell penicillin at below market price on the global market, driving all United States companies out of business.
Another of Gibson’s unveilings was that the United States no longer can manufacture generic antibiotics. We have allowed this capability to erode and are limited in making drugs to combat illnesses that are threats.
However, Congressional help is on the way.
This exposure has prompted congressional action by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) who introduced S. 3432, the Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet Act, on March 10. It is a bi-partisan measure that is moving through Congress, hopefully rapidly.
The stated purpose of this legislation is to support the advanced manufacturing technologies program of the Food and Drug Administration, to establish National Centers of Excellence in Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, and for other purposes.
This measure requires the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to approve drug manufacturing technologies expeditiously so drug shortages are not encountered or created by bureaucracy. The legislation also establishes pharmaceutical manufacturing centers of excellence so we can create a more qualified workforce. The development of technologies will also be encouraged in order to help manufacturers produce more drugs as well as active pharmaceutical ingredients in the United States.
One of the things supporters of S. 3432 point out is how the coronavirus pandemic has shown we run a major risk of having drug shortages which could be catastrophic, just like the issue of oil shortages a few years back. Opponents of the bill (Big Pharma) contend higher labor prices and excessive regulations will cause higher drug prices.
It is encouraging that Congress has recognized the problem and is attempting to correct it. Hopefully, the correction will come sooner rather than later before we have a nationwide crisis arise.
Another encouraging occurrence is the rapid mobilization of companies moving to develop a COVID 19 vaccine. This action shows how we can achieve a positive momentum when we work together as a united country rather than engaging in incessant and non-productive political squabbling.
We need to use the same positive resolve and speed to change pharmaceutical labels to “Made in America.”