Lawmakers in Washington have for some time been working to identify the drivers of high health care costs and to craft policy proposals that will help bring them down. One of the biggest perceived culprits is the cost of prescription drugs, which some say are driving health care costs through the roof.
For many, the answer appears to be generic drugs, an alternative pharmaceutical option that many believe to be an identical and cheaper version of their brand name counterparts.
However, generic drugs may not be the silver bullet that many policymakers believe them to be. Further studies conducted by statistical analysists and medical researchers have found increasing evidence that Washington’s deferential treatment of generic drugs may not only result in higher prices, but it could even be deadly.
Generic drug manufacturers have a history of skirting rules and breaking laws for profit at the expense of patients and taxpayers. As an example, 44 states recently sued 20 generic manufacturers for price-fixing and colluding to minimize market competition.
As a result of this chicanery, the price of some generic drugs like albuterol, a common asthma medication, saw a price increase of over 3,400 percent. While not all examples are egregious as this, in today’s generic drug market, which totals $104 billion in sales, even a small markup can result in millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains at the expense of taxpayers, insurers and patients.
Often generic drug manufacturers have also been found to violate basic manufacturing requirements of a clean and sterile environment. What is far more troubling is that the majority of generic drugs are now produced overseas. According to the FDA, “At least 80% of active ingredients used to make US-consumed drugs are produced outside of the country.”
The two countries that manufacturer the most generic drugs overseas are India and China. Companies in both countries have been put on notice numerous times by the Office of Manufacturing Quality in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research for failing to ensure the quality, safety and effectiveness of their drug products. The situation has become so bad that doctors, noting that drugs manufactured in these countries are not always working as intended, are now questioning their efficacy.
This is a big problem.
To add insult to injury, Chinese generic drug manufacturers often simply refuse FDA inspection. We all remember the recall of dog food that was manufactured in China and the toll it took on our families who had their precious pets die or be sick for long periods of time, let alone our vet bills. Unfortunately, it looks like a similar situation may already be unfolding with prescription drugs.
The FDA has issued multiple recalls of the blood pressure drug, Valsartan for containing cancer-causing chemicals like NDMA — a product used to make rocket fuel. The tainted Valsartan was linked back to a Chinese manufacturer and was widely distributed throughout the world.
The issue has become so bad that the U.S. government recently declared Chinese-manufactured ingredients in generic drugs a “national security risk.” These tainted drugs have affected not only American civilians but have made their way into our military health care system as well. Since our own Defense Logistics Agency purchased tainted valsartan for our troops with high blood pressure, it has been surmised that this could impact and decrease our troop readiness as well as jeopardize the health of those putting their lives at risk on the front lines.
From a military standpoint, we would not desire to be dependent upon a potential hostile actor for our strategic defense needs like aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines or energy supplies.
So why are we depending upon the Chinese for life-saving medications that may actually inflict damage or sabotage our health? To what end? Lower costs? What about quality and efficacy? Depending on our potential enemies for life-saving drugs is not only folly, it’s dangerous.
Bad actors, driven by green or other motives need to be shut down. There should be oversight and an ironclad ability to demand standards from our drug manufacturers who are outsourcing their operations overseas.
If it means forcing generic companies to stop outsourcing manufacturing so we can monitor the quality of our generic drug industry, then so be it — it is time to consider making those changes before it is too late.
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that generics are good because they create competition in the market and bring down health care costs. This is not only a dangerous mentality but also reckless, as the consideration should always first be to protect Americans and not risk poisoning them to save money.
Generic drugs should not be given a blank check and we should demand better. When it comes to our health care, the goal should always be quality over quantity.
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