Congress to Examine the Health and Safety Risks of China’s “Grip” on Medicine

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Sep 11 2019 |
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Reps. Anna Eshoo and Adam Schiff plan to hold hearings.

A little over a year ago, AAM President Scott Paul chatted with health care expert Rosemary Gibson for an episode of The Manufacturing Report podcast. Gibson had just co-authored a new book examining an overlooked part of America’s trade relationship with China.

The book’s title says it all. In “China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine,” Gibson and co-author Janardan Prasad Singh outline how China now dominates pharmaceutical manufacturing — and why that is such a big problem for the United States.

Along with making a significant amount of medication, China also has a virtual monopoly on many of the essential ingredients that go into the pharmaceuticals that Americans depend on, including everything from over-the-counter vitamins to cancer meds to almost every antibiotic and blood pressure medication.

China’s dominance of the pharmaceutical supply chain means it has the power to cut off access to many of the medications Americans need to, um, live.

Think tariffs on cotton sweaters and bed linens are bad? Think about what would happen If China decided to cut off our medicine.

Pharmacy shelves would sit empty. Hospitals would close. People would die.

“Children and adults with cancer will suffer without vital medicines,” Gibson recently told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. “For people on kidney dialysis, treatment would cease, a veritable death sentence.”

It’s all very scary stuff. Keep you awake at night kind of stuff.

But there’s another big risk: Quality control. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) simply is not equipped to properly monitor the massive amount of drugs produced by China. Mistakes happen, after all, even when everyone is acting in the best interest.

Problems have arisen, sometimes with tragic results, like the tainted blood thinner killed 246 people in 2007 and 2008. Just last year, popular blood pressure medication valsartan was recalled because of worries it had been contaminated.

Yeah, like we said. Scary.

Still, for some reason, the issue has not gained as much traction as other China-related issues. How much horserace-type coverage comes out each day about the back-and-forth in the China trade war, after all?

Which is why we were glad to see that California Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Adam Schiff — who chair the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health and House Intelligence Committee, respectively — had penned a new op-ed in The Washington Post explaining the many national security risks that come from China’s “grip on pharmaceutical drugs.”

Eshoo and Schiff used the piece to announce that they plan to “hold joint committee hearings on these issues to shine a light on the problem and to develop bipartisan solutions.” They continue:

“We need to think of pharmaceuticals as what they are for millions of Americans: a critical good that we literally can’t live without. It’s unacceptable to become fully dependent on any single foreign country for those goods — all the more so when it’s China.”

It’s good news that the duo are elevating the issue, which unfortunately does not receive the level of attention it deserves. We plan to keep a close eye on these hearings, and we encourage Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to work to find ways to begin to reverse these problems in the supply chain and strengthen America’s own pharmaceutical manufacturing.

In the meantime, we encourage you to read the entire op-ed, along with Gibson’s testimony to the China commission. If you have time, check out her interview on the podcast, too.