Who’s making our medicine?

Let’s talk pills. To treat everything from allergies to heart problems, half of Americans take a prescription medicine every day, and nearly all of us reach for the pill bottle on occasion.

It’s perfectly safe, though, because the Food and Drug Administration regulates the ingredients that go into those medicinal compounds, right? Yes – assuming they’re produced in the USA.

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Uh, aren’t they?

Mostly, no. Take antibiotics. The New York Times reports that ingredients for the majority of these bacteria fighters are “now made almost exclusively in China and India,” as are the components of dozens of other major drugs. Unbeknownst to most Americans (and to our doctors), China has become the world’s pre-eminent supplier of medicines. As one major drug company puts it: “If tomorrow China stopped supplying pharmaceutical ingredients, the worldwide pharmaceutical industry would collapse.”

What’s at work here is mindless globalization and deregulation. Our politicians threw open the US market to drug imports, while also letting foreign manufacturers go uninspected and unregulated. So, companies located in China can cut corners and undercut our own regulated pill makers. America’s last producer of penicillin’s ingredients, for example, shut down in 2004, leaving us dependent on China.

FDA – our supposed watchdog – doesn’t even know where a drug’s ingredients come from. Why? Because drug companies say they don’t like to reveal their sources – so they don’t. The Times found that one federal database lists the existence of about 3,000 foreign drug plants that ship to the US, while another lists 6,800. No one knows which is correct, if either.

This is ridiculous. For the sake of America’s health, security, and economy, let’s regulate all pill makers and rebuild our own industry.


“Drug Making’s Move Abroad Stirs Concerns,” The New York Times, January 20, 2009.

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