Foreign suppliers add pressure to US pharmaceutical supply shortages: Lawmakers



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Recent prescription medication shortages have left U.S. patients fearing they won’t be able to access necessary medicines, but lawmakers raised concerns over how to fight shortages at a Tuesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Americans “should not have to rely on adversarial nations to stock their medicine cabinets,” panel Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) said, referring to China.

In a hearing called to examine U.S. chronic drug shortages, lawmakers expressed concern over a recent report that found more than 80 percent of pharmaceutical active ingredients are imported into the U.S. from foreign manufacturers, primarily China and India.

China dominates the global pharmaceutical market because it “has developed policies as a government about sectors of the pharmaceutical market they want to enter and in fact dominate,” said Stephen Schondelmeyer, director of the PRIME Institute at the University of Minnesota.

“They subsidized the companies involved, they developed the infrastructure hubs — they have whole areas larger than the D.C. area that are manufacturing products. Then they at times engage in predatory pricing, or even dumping of product in the market to drive other players out of the market,” Schondelmeyer said.

“We’ve got to stop kidding ourselves, and figure out how we’re gonna be in this game in a bigger way,” Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said.

If the U.S. wants to become less reliant on China, it could take years to assemble the capabilities, Schondelmeyer said.

Jeromie Ballreich, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, along with several other witnesses, recommended Congress provide monetary incentives for pharmaceutical manufacturers to return to the U.S., enter longer-term production contracts, keep larger stores of medicines and contribute to a government stockpile that would hedge against uncertainty. 

A lack of available consumer information on anything but the price of medicine is giving essential, low-cost medicine manufacturers the wrong incentives, according to Ballreich.

A market focused on the cost of medicine, instead of one where the quality and origin of medicine is disclosed, is less responsive to shortages and makes the U.S. supply chain less resilient, Ballreich said. Since consumers are only able to consider price, he said, competition to have the lowest price has made generic, essential and cheap medicines difficult to profit from. 

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