Dependence on China for Drugs Is National Security Threat, Say Experts

By Kitty Wang

China has become a major exporter of pharmaceutical products worldwide; and now, increasing numbers of U.S. consumers rely on the communist country for their drugs.

Experts say this dependence is a national security threat.

Rosemary Gibson, Senior Advisor at the Hastings Center said, “In five to ten years we’ll have virtually no manufacturing capacity left for generic drugs, and again this is ninety percent of our medicines.”

At a recent Congressional hearing, experts warned that dependence on China for active-pharmaceutical-ingredients (APIs), generic drugs and biologic medicines has become a national security threat—mainly the result of unfair competition caused by China’s predatory trade practices.

“Chinese companies formed a cartel, dumped it on the global market, and they drove out all the U.S., European, and even Indian producers; this was in the early two thousands,” said Gibson. “And once they gained dominant market share, prices went back up.”

The U.S. military also relies on the global market for their drug supply. This dependence on China has the Defense Health Agency concerned.

Christopher Priest, Principal Deputy Assistant Director of Healthcare Operations at the U.S. Defense Health Agency said, “We are aware that 80 percent of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients—the APIs, as noted—used by commercial sources to produce finished products come from China and other non-TAA compliant countries, such as India.”

Gibson and Priest said if China restricts its supply of APIs to the United States, it would lead to a serious shortage of drugs, both for civilians and the military, and would threaten medical institutions’ operations as well.

In addition, there are grave issues with the quality of pharmaceuticals from China; and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration faces tough challenges in sending its own people to China to inspect for quality.

“When we lose control over supply, we lose control over quality. That’s why we have blood pressure medicines with carcinogens in them,” Gibson said.

To fundamentally resolve drug dependence on China, experts suggest that the U.S. government needs to conduct a whole-of-government review, to identify vulnerabilities and rebuild U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing bases.