The People's Perspective on Medicine

Pharmacists Are Worried About Foreign Drug Problems

Most people don't worry about drug shortages until they happen to them. Hospital pharmacists are worried about foreign-made drugs. Should you be concerned?
Pharmacist using computer at pharmacy

Pharmacists have been caught in a terrible double bind. On the one hand they want to dispense safe and effective pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, they have had to contend with unprecedented recalls because of nitrosamine contamination and other pharma flaws. They try to reassure patients that the drug supply is fine. But many pharmacists are worried about quality. They read about FDA warning letters to foreign drug manufacturers. Investigative journalists write about instances of fraud and mismanagement in the generic drug industry. Listen to our interview with Katherine Eban about her book, Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom.

A Strong Warning that Pharmacists Are Worried:

Paul Abramowitz is the CEO of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists or ASHP. This is a powerful organization representing 50,000 health professionals. Here is what it stands for:

“ASHP has been at the forefront of efforts to improve medication use and enhance patient safety.”

In a recent blog, Dr. Arbrmowitz wrote:

“Relying predominantly on other countries for necessary ingredients to manufacture crucial drugs, APIs [active pharmaceutical ingredients], and devices required to safely prepare and administer drugs presents a potential threat to the stability of the US drug supply. Approximately 80 percent of API manufacturers are located outside of the U.S. – this leaves our supply chain vulnerable to disruption and puts API sourcing at risk.”

Pharmacists are Worried About Drug Shortages:

Ask any hospital pharmacist about drug shortages and you are likely to get an earful. There are stories about the critical lack of vincristine, a medicine that is essential for children with leukemias and lymphomas. But vincristine is just the tip of the iceberg. Experts estimate that over 100 medications are in short supply. Some are essential for saving lives. For example, people with bladder cancer depend upon an old drug called BCG. It saves lives. Shockingly, it is in critical short supply.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if China decided to stop sending pharmaceuticals to the U.S. Within weeks our drug supply chain would be in shambles. The bottom line is that our system is incredibly vulnerable to disruption. Pharmacists are worried and the ASHP is sounding a clear warning. Are your concerned? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Yes, I’m very concerned. It’s difficult enough to control our own manufacturers here in the U. S. When they manufacture overseas or rely on a contract manufacturer to supplement or control product, we not only endanger that supply chain, but also open up opportunities to contaminate the product and falsify records. And you can thank the insurance companies for somewhat forcing the manufacturers into looking for cheaper labor markets. And the manufacturers aren’t without fault either! It’s all about $$.

Why have US drug manufacturers “ dropped out”? Has the FDA as now structured outlived its usefulness? What entities or persons are reaping the monetary benefits ? What can be done?

Wow! I worried about the drug quality from other countries, but did not know the situation was that bad both in quality and in obtaining the the drugs.

We are all concerned about bad drugs from China and India. We have had way to many recalls on drugs used by many. I work for pharmaceutical company in Ohio. The things we had to do to ensure safe drugs was alot to deal with. The company that I worked for went out of buisness. Is there a good book on drugs? I have the book Bottle Of Lies, I have not read yet. Are there any others? Thank You, Sally

This is not a Republican or Democrat problem. Our families are threatened by this policy. Seems like our so-called legislators obviously don’t want to tackle anything substantial to protect our citizens!

How can we find out the origin of our drugs?

Also, I have been looking at dog treats and will not buy any from China, only those “made in the USA.” Some labels read “produced” in the USA and am wondering what the difference is? I know you do not report on dog food but wondering if this would also apply to medications?

What can we do to investigate this problem further? Who do we contact? Why can’t the USA make its own drugs???? Who can I call or write to? Seems like nobody in the government is concerned. Congress needs to stop wasting time on impeachment and start working on these drug issues before other governments take over our drug supply. Please help. Thank you

Yes, I am very concerned. Several of my prescriptions, including Valsartan and the Losartan, were recalled due to contamination. I received a different medication or a different generic for six months and then had my first episode of skyrocketing blood pressure and heart arrhythmia. Frankly, I don’t trust the purity of any of the six prescriptions I take now.

I take 3 drugs to control my hypertension and cholesterol, all generics. There has been a steady stream of reporting about major contamination problems in Indian pharmaceutical plants and the inadequate oversight of these plants by the FDA. Congress must provide FDA with a major boost in funding to address these problems. I would also suggest funding the establishment of subsidized manufacturing facilities in the U. S.to address the clear vulnerability of our health system to foreign interference. The pursuit of ever-greater profits by drug companies through offshoring production has greatly endangered us.

It seems the big problems are about outsourcing for ingredients and manufacture. I’d guess X number of years ago some CEOs thought “Hey! We can farm out the production of our drugs to third world countries and make a boatload more money than we are making now! Profits could go to obscene levels!” and, of course, the federal government did not step in and say “Oh no, no, no! You aren’t going to get staggeringly wealthy by putting the American citizenry at risk.” And here we are.

This is downright criminal and terrifying that we have let ourselves be so dependent on foreign stuff. The almighty buck and to heck with people, it seems.

I chose to stop taking Losartan after contamination with carcinogenic materials at the plant in India. Now I am taking a betablocker that makes me tired. Should we have to tolerate shoddy medical care because insurance and pharmaceutical companies want big profit margins?

Being this vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain for critical drugs is very disconcerting. My husband takes two important drugs regularly, and not to have them could jeopardize his health and even his life. The very fact that so much drug manufacturing happens overseas instead of here in the U.S. shows just how much Big Pharma values profits instead of people. This doesn’t seem like it’s going to end well if it keeps on happening.

Anyone who has watched the BBCs Wartime Farm or Wartime Kitchen series depicting life during the German blockade of England in the 40s would understand how vulnerable we are since we became a net importer of many essential products including pharmaceuticals. All it would take is one country to cease exports to bring us to our knees. And, unlike Great Britain in the 40s, I doubt this country has the backbone to survive without capitulating to their demands.

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