For all the money Americans spend on medications, there’s no reason to settle for cheap, sometimes contaminated Chinese ingredients, columnist Betsy McCaughey says
Democrats and Republicans battered TikTok’s CEO at a House of Representatives hearing on Thursday — for good reason. The Chinese app poses a national security risk, accumulating troves of data on its American users. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s slithery comment that “I don’t think spying is the right way to describe it,” only heightened concerns.
Too bad another Chinese threat — bigger and more immediate — isn’t getting the same attention. China has a chokehold on our medication supply chain. Beijing controls many — in some cases, all — active ingredients for the remedies in our medicine chests, the drugs used in emergency rooms and even antibiotics administered to soldiers on the battlefield.
The med bottles in your cabinet don’t say “Made in China,” but nearly all are, including 97% of U.S. antibiotics, by some estimates.
In a tense situation, Beijing could simply cut off shipments of antibiotics, cancer drugs and other meds, forcing the U.S. to cede to its demands. Our survival hinges on their goodwill.
China cornered the market for drug ingredients fast. Until the mid-1990s, the West and Japan produced 90% of the world’s active pharmaceutical ingredients. By 2017, China was producing 40%. Now almost all drug pipelines start in China. Even India, the other drug producing giant, relies on China for 70% of its active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Gary Peters warns that foreign dependence is “an unacceptable national security risk.” But talk is cheap.
As China’s grip tightens, the federal government is doing next to nothing, according to the Committee’s report released last week.
In 2019, Congress requested the Food and Drug Administration list the lifesaving drugs Americans rely on and which countries supply them. The FDA still hasn’t done it. FDA bureaucrats pathetically plead, in so many words, that it’s too much work to pore over the applicants filed by drug producers for the information.
It gets worse. In 2021, the Department of Defense inspector general issued a scathing report that DOD lacked strategies to circumvent reliance on foreign drug suppliers. Yet as of last week, DOD still hadn’t assembled data on where its drugs originate or what can be done to overcome chokeholds.
President Joe Biden’s Defense Department considers securing medicines for the military a lower priority than woke goals such as pronoun lessons, sex change surgery for transgender personnel and climate change.
Biden himself told Air Force personnel that global warming was the greatest threat facing America. Biden proposes spending “billions” converting every military vehicle to electric, but only $60 million — a tiny fraction of that sum — to incentivize domestic manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. That says it all.
Sorry, Mr. President, but China should not control access to medicines for our soldiers and citizens.
Even in peacetime, America’s dependence on far-away drug suppliers is a problem. Parents are frantically racing from one drug store to the next for amoxicillin for their child’s strep throat and meds for ADHD.
Reliance on China also means accepting drugs made in squalid factories that are seldom, or never, inspected by the FDA, according to a General Accountability Office report. In 2008, a contaminated blood thinner from China, heparin, killed 81 American patients.
It’s time to bring drug manufacturing home. One obvious way is to restore Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code, which Congress enacted in 1976 to attract industry to Puerto Rico. It gave companies a tax credit equal to what they would have to pay the federal government on their earnings there. Pharmaceutical plants sprang up fast there, and by 1990, 17 of the 21 most prescribed drugs in the U.S. were made in Puerto Rico. When Congress ended the subsidy, drug manufacturing moved halfway around the world to China, but some factories still sit idle.
In ordinary times, Democrats would reject tax breaks for drug companies. But even oncologist Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a Democrat and former Obama health adviser, has recommended this quick solution to a menacing situation.
For all the money Americans spend on medications, there’s no reason to settle for cheap, sometimes contaminated Chinese ingredients and the looming threat of a Chinese blockade. Tell Congress to act.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Follow her on Twitter @Betsy_McCaughey. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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