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Greg Webb
Greg Webb
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Pharmaceutical Drugs Produced Abroad Worry Experts and Legislators

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In 2004, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the last plant in the United States to manufacture key ingredients for important antibiotics like penicillin, announced it would close its factory in East Syracuse, New York. Few people worried about the effect this would have on national security at the time since most of the focus was on job loss. Now, however, many lawmakers and experts are becoming concerned that the United States is way too reliant on medicine from abroad. They are scared this leaves room for counterfeit medications, supply interruptions, and even bioterrorism, leading legislators to ask for a law that would require some drugs be made or stockpiled in the US.

Although many years ago most pills consumed in the US were made domestically, drug manufacturers have recently started moving to Asia where production costs are much lower and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects facilities less frequently than domestic plants. This has led to the critical ingredients for antibiotics, along with many other medications, now being made almost exclusively in China and India. For example, of the 1,154 pharmaceutical plants that are mentioned in generic drug applications to the FDA, only thirteen percent were located in the United States; forty-three percent were located in China and thirty-nine percent were located in India. Pharmaceutical companies do not like to reveal where their drug suppliers are located. Many even put the drug was manufactured in the United States on the label, though the listed plants are usually where the drug was pounded into pills and packaged.

The chairman of Cipla, one of the world’s most important suppliers of pharmaceutical ingredients, stated that if China stopped supplying pharmaceutical ingredients, the worldwide pharmaceutical industry would collapse. Currently, the Center for Disease Control has a stockpile of medications with enough antibiotics to treat about forty million people. If more are needed, however, the country lacks the resources to produce them since a penicillin fermenter would take years to build from scratch.

This writer finds this news to be very scary. The fact that our country is heavily dependant upon certain parts of the rest of the world for our energy resources, and our financing (China finances a lot of our borrowing), and now our pharmaceutical needs, is of great concern. How and why did we get to this place? Perhaps someone out there can tell me why this may not be as bad as it sounds. I am looking to be enlightened on this topic if possible. I do not see how it is good that we may be so dependent upon China for this need; perhaps we have the capability to, if pressed, increase our production.