Somewhere between very few and none of the medications consumed by Americans are made here and that’s a problem for some lawmakers.
“The lack of regulation around outsourcing is a blind spot that leaves room for supply disruptions, counterfeit medicines, even bioterrorism,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown told the New York Times.
Used to be that most of the pills we consumed were made here but just like the production of steel, clothing, TV sets and so forth, pill manufacturing moved to Asia in pursuit of reduced production costs and a—shall we say—more relaxed regulatory environment.
Now virtually all key ingredients for antibiotics and drugs from prednisone to metformin come from India and China, according to the Times.
In fact the FDA reports that only 13% of 1,154 pharmaceutical plants listed in applications for generic drugs were located in the US. Forty-three percent were based in China and 39% in India.
The CDC stockpiles antibiotics in sufficient amounts to treat millions, but if our penicillin supply was snipped for whatever reason or a disaster drained the stash, we would be stuck. It would take 2 years to get a commercial-grade penicillin fermenter up and running.
And there’s essentially no regulatory oversight for the supply-chain. Drug makers are not required to release information about suppliers, and they believe such information is proprietary, so oftentimes it’s impossible to determine where drug ingredients even come from.
The FDA keeps various lists of drug suppliers, but they are neither reliable nor up to date. One database lists 3,000 foreign plants that export drugs or ingredients to the US. Another puts the number closer to 6,800.
No one really knows.