The world depends on one country for its pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements: China

Jun 4, 2020 | 10 comments

By Shirley Chan

“Millions of Americans are taking medicines, generic drugs made in China and made with ingredients from China,” said Rosemary Gibson. “We’re so dependent, if China shuts its door on exports, after a number of months our pharmacy shelves would become pretty bare.”

Gibson is a senior advisor with the Hastings Center. She is also a foremost authority on health care in the U.S. Her book, “China Rx,” explores America’s dependency on drugs made in China.

Illustration by Nigel Buchanan

“China is wrapping up very, very quickly in manufacturing our generic drugs and I expect that trend to accelerate in the coming years,” said Gibson. “We will have virtually no ability to make the common drugs used in hospitals and found in home medicine cabinets.”

About 9% of generic drugs are manufactured in China. Additionally, 80% to 90% of core ingredients needed to make many common medicines like Aspirin come from that country.

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America is not alone.

“This is global dependence,” said Gibson. “Countries around the world are dependent on a single country and where we’re most dependent on China — as is the rest of the world — are the ingredients, the core chemicals to make our generic prescription drugs.”—

Gibson said this has been the case for the last two decades, as American companies moved drug factories overseas.

“Our last Aspirin plant, that closed in the early 2000s almost 20 years ago. Even vitamin C, we don’t make vitamin C anymore,” said Gibson.

If a shortage happens, Gibson said the U.S. wouldn’t even be able to manufacture the medicines here, as many of the plants have long been shut down.

“I think the companies really are in a stranglehold because there isn’t that much of an option,” said Gibson. “The real thing we have to do is fix this in a real way which means we have to bring some of our medicine manufacturing back home to this country so we have some level of self-sufficiency.

“In the event of a global pandemic or natural disaster and China shuts the doors on exports, the United States will stand in line with other countries hoping to get medicine.”

The FDA said in February a manufacturer did report a shortage of a drug “related to a site affected by coronavirus. The shortage is due to an issue with manufacturing of an active pharmaceutical ingredient used in the drug,” said Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner.

“t is important to note that there are other alternatives that can be used by patients. We are working with the manufacturer as well as other manufacturers to mitigate the shortage. We will do everything possible to mitigate the shortage.”

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