US Reliance on Chinese Medicine Is an Overlooked Security Risk

Kitty Wang
By Kitty Wang
July 28, 2019USshare

China poses a serious risk to American security in a way that most people probably aren’t aware of—through the pharmaceutical industry.

China is a major global source of non-patent drugs and pharmaceutical raw materials. One expert calls this an overlooked threat to America’s national security and health security.

Rosemary Gibson, Senior Advisor, The Hastings Center said, “United States is so dependent on China for medicine that if they shut the door, within months if not weeks, our healthcare system will collapse.”

The co-author of “China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine,” Gibson describes how Chinese companies dominate the pharmaceutical market through unfair competition: “A handful of Chinese companies got together formed the penicillin cartel. They dumped product on the global market. And they drove out all U.S., European and even Indian producers. They undercut on price, and once they gain dominant global market share, increased the price.”

This unfair competition has dire consequences. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 80 percent or more of active ingredients found in America’s medicines come from abroad—mainly China.

Drug safety is another important issue. Many Chinese pharmaceutical companies have been cited for serious health violations in their production process, and export drugs are often far below U.S. safety standards. The most recent case was the high level of carcinogens in a blood pressure medication.

“The worst offender was a company in China whose blood pressure pills, each one, had more than 200 times the acceptable limits of this cancer causing component. Shockingly!” said Gibson.

She believes that concentration of the pharmaceutical supply chain in any one country can create unpredictable security risks. For example, pig intestine is an important source of heparin extraction, which is used to make blood thinners. China occupies 80 percent of the global market. Gibson says the recent African swine fever outbreak in China will lead to a global shortage of heparin. Meanwhile, Smith Field, the largest producer of pigs in the United States, was acquired by China in 2013.

Gibson said, “From United States perspective, does that pose a risk to our national health security that we may not have the opportunity to use the raw materials from pigs here in the United States to make a vital component of the medicine…” She said U.S. hospital systems and pharmacies should buy medicine based on value instead of price. “And value includes quality, assuring an uninterrupted supply and national health security factors.”

She also recommends that the U.S. government does a comprehensive review of vulnerabilities in medicine, and offer incentives to grow the U.S. pharmaceutical industrial base.

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