Balancing the Cost of Cheaper Medicine

Outsourcing may affect more than just American labor conditions. It could very well affect the availability of safe prescription medication. Only 13% of pharmaceutical plants used to create new prescription drugs for sale in the U.S. are actually located in the U.S. Three times as many are in India and nearly four times as many are in China.

On the one hand, it is far cheaper (financially) to produce medicine overseas in Asia. The reason it is so much cheaper, however, might give you enough reason to consider whether it’s worth it. And the consequences of our emerging dependence on foreign medication are raising more than just a few eyebrows.

Manufacturers point to the lower cost of producing medicine overseas as the reason for this transatlantic shift. They argue that foreign manufacturing plants are not regulated as heavily, and that such onerous regulation in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration unnecessarily increases the cost of production, forcing them to raise the prices of domestically produced medicine.

Is regular inspection really that intrusive, expensive, and unfair? And are pharmaceutical companies really that conscious of safety that there is no need for such oversight? One would suspect that even with regular inspection, the costs of running the business wouldn’t increase dramatically unless you were constantly out of compliance with safety standards, which is the exact reason we have them in the first place – to identify unsafe practices and correct them before someone gets hurt.

If these companies are not changing their unsafe practices (and thereby only avoiding harassment for safety violations instead of burdensome regulatory costs) we are setting ourselves up for some truly frightening catastrophes. You know, like having only two worldwide sources for a critical life-saving medication used in emergency rooms, and both of them just happen to be contaminated because they are manufactured in China. Which is exactly what happened with the drug heparin one year ago.

What is the solution? Whatever it is, let’s be clear on one thing: it should NOT be diminishing the safety checks we have here in the U.S. Instead, it should be to encourage developing countries (i.e., India and China) to adopt similar standards. In effect, it should be requiring pharmaceutical companies to care about safety, environmental protection, and labor as much as they do about profit. This can help discourage manufacturers from running off to safe harbor nations that care about protecting American consumers as much as grade school children care about doing summer school homework.

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