Rosemary Gibson chairs the healthcare committee of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. She is the author of “China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine.”
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many American lives. Millions are still out of work. This is the public toll of the virus. However, the disruption caused by the pandemic now runs deeper — and threatens the safety of America’s daily drug needs.
[Rosemary Gibson | Feb. 6, 2021 | Daily Times]
The coronavirus has made Americans more aware of the pitfalls of heavy dependence on imports. When the coronavirus first emerged, many countries banned exports of essential generic drugs and key components. That left U.S. hospitals scrambling to address shortages of basic medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Members of Congress subsequently introduced legislation to boost PPE supplies, and U.S. manufacturers retooled their factories in order to produce needed equipment. That has helped hospitals to get the resources they need. But there’s still another problem — the United States continues to depend on countries like China for critical inputs and ingredients in the generic medicines that Americans take each day.
Over the past 30 years, much of America’s drug manufacturing has moved offshore, including the production of generic medications that comprise 90 percent of America’s daily needs. As a result, thousands of drugs are made with ingredients produced only in China, including medications currently used to to help patients recover from the coronavirus.
The situation is dire. The United States no longer manufactures penicillin and has virtually no capacity to produce antibiotics like the ones that treat pediatric ear infections, pneumonia, and even anthrax exposure. The U.S. also imports 95 percent of its ibuprofen and 70 percent of its acetaminophen from China.
Compounding these problems is that, at the onset of the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was forced to recall all of its overseas inspectors. Since then, generic drugs have been entering the U.S. from overseas factories without proper inspection.
Poorly inspected drug shipments pose serious risks. In 2007 and 2008, for example, hundreds of Americans died from tainted supplies of Chinese-made heparin. More recently, millions of Americans were sold blood pressure medicine from a Chinese company that contained more than 200 times the acceptable limit per pill of a known carcinogen.
The United States must move swiftly to start manufacturing these drugs at home. In order to accomplish this, a key first step would be for Medicare and Medicaid to require that hospitals prioritize the use of American-made essential generic drugs.
Adding American-made requirements to Medicare and Medicaid would create the incentives and market conditions needed to rebuild America’s generic pharmaceutical manufacturing. That could ensure Americans have safer access to key drugs. It could also help to make the United States more self-sufficient in the production of medicines and their critical components.
It’s time for Washington to make sure that millions of Americans have reliable access to safe, quality, generic drugs. As the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s little time to waste in protecting the nation’s healthcare, now and in the future.