“Do You Know Where Your Medicine Came From?”

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The Story

“Do You Know Where Your Medicine Came From?”
by Paul Tullis
Pacific Standard, January 6, 2012

The Pitch

What if I told you there’s a pretty good chance that any prescription drugs or dietary supplements
you may take are made outside the US, with little oversight of quality or safety? I’m not talking about people driving to Canada to get their Lipitor, I’m talking about a potential public health threat from drugs sold under US brand names coming from the place that gave us toys coated with lead paint. For the same reason that many other products are made overseas– it’s cheaper– an estimated 80% ingredients and 40% of finished prescription drugs now come from outside the US. Half of all Vitamin C is made in China, home of toxic toys and tainted baby formula. There’s an indirect effect here, too, as many food products from the animal kingdom– farmed fish probably being the most prevalent– contain additives, such as antibiotics, not approved for consumption by the FDA. This is no idle threat: a bogus blood medicine made in China for a US company killed hundreds two years ago (it took awhile to sort out the cause of death in most of them so there was never a flash-bang announcement that made news), and a bad batch of Chinese cough medicine recently killed 56 Panamanians. It turns out the FDA has the resources to inspect only about 10% of overseas factories, and with budgetary pressures that’s unlikely to improve soon. I’d like to find out what US and European drug firms are doing to ensure the safety of their product lines manufactured abroad.

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