China’s generic manufacturing dominance threatens not only drug supply shortages but also drug integrity. Millions of Americans had their blood pressure medicines recalled beginning in 2018 because they contained carcinogens. A Chinese company supplied the key ingredient for many of these products; these key ingredients contained more than 200 times the acceptable limit of a chemical found in rocket fuel. More than 31,000 active-duty military personnel, veterans, and their family members were affected.
In 2008, 246 Americans died and thousands more were injured when a widely used blood thinner made in China, heparin, was contaminated. Detecting faulty drugs is difficult-to-impossible. The last thing critically ill patients and their doctors should have to worry about is whether their medications being used are contaminated.
The White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy is preparing rules to direct HHS, the VA, and the Department of Defense to buy U.S. manufactured medicines and supplies for their government contracts. This is the first and most crucial step in securing safe and reliable medication for the American public.
At the same time, lawmakers must immediately work to bring the supply chain back to American shores. They can achieve this goal by deeming medicines a strategic asset, requiring federal government departments and agencies to buy medicines made in the U.S., and supporting capital investment and other incentives to restart drug manufacturing. These initiatives can be included as part of the upcoming Phase 4 coronavirus stimulus legislation. They would boost the economy, create jobs, and revitalize communities around the country.
Entrepreneurs with expertise in pharmaceutical manufacturing are ready to step in to manufacture critical generic drugs in the U.S. By using advanced manufacturing technology, the cost of production is lower and the quality of medicines can be assured with real-time quality control.
Generic medicines such as antibiotics are vital to Americans’ health and wellbeing in the best of times. Even more during a pandemic. The coronavirus reinforces the importance of domestic production capacity and provides the impetus for legislation to bring critical manufacturing home and ensure our health security.
This is not a partisan issue and patient care is not political. We must be able to manufacture our own medications to protect Americans during this pandemic and in its aftermath. The White House’s executive order will make help make this vision a reality.
Alfredo Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network. C.L. Gray is the president and founder of Physicians for Reform and a physician in western North Carolina.