Gone decades ago are the days when most American product labels said “Made in the USA,” replaced by “Made in China” or some other far-flung place of origin. In the past few months, concerns over the dominance of foreign imports have been raised as a potential danger to the safety of the nation’s medicine chest.
The problem, we are being told, is that, far and away, China manufactures most of the prescription drugs and their components purchased by U.S. organizations. Media articles since the fall of 2019 have cautioned that this pharmaceutical dependency could be weaponized and therefore constitutes a threat to our national security.
In July 2019, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission held a hearing to discuss the United States’ increasing dependency on China’s pharmaceutical exports.
The commission’s 2019 annual report to Congress pointed out “serious deficiencies in health and safety standards in China’s pharmaceutical sector.” Not only is China’s pharmaceutical industry poorly regulated but its federal officials refuse to cooperate with routine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections.
Before that, Gary Cohn, as President Trump’s chief economic advisor, sided against a trade war with China by citing a Department of Commerce study that reported that 97 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. came from China:
“If you’re the Chinese and you want to really just destroy us, just stop sending us antibiotics.”
At the July hearing, Rosemary Gibson, Senior Advisor at the Hastings Center (an organization that addresses social and ethical issues in health care, science, and technology) testified that assigning the global supply chain of essential medications to a single country creates a vulnerability to interruption, “whether by mistake or design.”
Gibson, whose book titles include China Rx, affirmed that a drug stoppage from the most populous country on the planet would cripple American healthcare:
“If China shut the door on exports of medicines and their key ingredients and raw material, U.S. hospitals and military hospitals and clinics would cease to function within months, if not days.”
The career advisor to organizations that advance the public’s interest in health care also warned that generic drugs whose key ingredients are manufactured in China are at risk, including medicines for blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and depression. Gibson exposed another American vulnerability:
“We can’t make penicillin anymore. The last penicillin plant in the United States closed in 2004.”
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) joins other organizations that are offering solutions to the federal Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). Producing antibiotics domestically is one recommendation made “ensure that our national industrial base is not impacted by the state of the pharmaceutical sector.”
DoD acquires only a small quantity of finished pharmaceuticals from China but about 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for drug-making in the United States reputedly come from China and other countries such as India.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, Director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, testified before Congress in October 2019 that the U.S. “has become a world leader in drug discovery and development, but is no longer in the forefront of drug manufacturing.”
Woodcock also testified that 72 percent of API manufacturing occurs outside the U.S. and that the number of Chinese API-producing facilities has more than doubled since 2010.
Importing vital drugs from “strategic adversaries” is a weakness that China may well be planning to exploit.
To help resolve the need for overseas medicinal suppliers, a House bill introduced October 17, 2019, the Pharmaceutical Independence Reform Act (H.R. 4710) would force DOD to purchase only American-made medicines, vaccines, and raw materials produced in the U.S., for military use.
A Chinese news report from June last year revealed rising drug prices in recent years and why the Chinese Communist Party government has failed to lower the cost of medications despite more than 30 mandatory price control strategies.
An insider at a hospital in China’s mountainous southern province stated that prices for critical and life-saving drugs, including those for resuscitation, blood-clot promoting or boosting white blood cells in patients on chemotherapy, were ten times higher than the prior year.
A pharmaceutical salesman in Beijing confirmed that over-the-counter (OTC) drug costs are on steroids, too. Vitamins, supplements, and health products cost more now.
Americans tend to assume that products will be available on demand. This includes medications. Do we really want the Chinese Communists, our political opponents, in control of the nation’s pharmaceutical supply?