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Terror from China: outsourced pharmaceuticals

May 18, 2008

The third-largest nation on earth spans what would be five time zones anywhere else, but one time zone, Chinese Standard Time, suffices across more than 4,000 miles. Talk about “Darkness at Noon….” The point is, national standards are not unknown in China.

However, China has no uniform building code. And if it did, I can’t think corruption and corner-cutting wouldn’t still be standard practice. The Chinese know about rebar. Schools that became tombs to tens of thousands of children weren’t built by technologically unsophisticated contractors; they were built on the cheap. One parent likened the school that buried her child to tofu.

No one doesn’t now that concrete requires horizontal as well as vertical rebar for structural integrity. Most of the horrific damage and the highest casualties were in the highest density areas. The instant cities in a rapidly catching-up region needed to go up in a hurry, and opportunism and quick profit displaced obvious safety concerns. But I’m more interested at this point in how this same mentality parlays into the safety of every American who depends on American pharmaceuticals–because we’re outsourcing production of our prescriptions to China.

My life depends on pharmaceuticals. I can’t tell you how little I relish the prospect of people making them who share the cultural values of the people who built those leveled schools.

“Foreign drug manufacturers are attracted to China for the expedited registration and support process from the State Food & Drug Administration (SFDA).”

“As reported by Outsourcing-Pharma magazine article titled “China ‘most attractive’ offshore clinical trial location” as reported by A.T. Kearny survey of top pharmaceutical companies.”

“According to the report, China was chosen because it has the largest urban patient population in the world – providing a vast patient pool –in addition to a huge network of hospitals with over 2.5m doctors, nurses and technicians, all on significantly lower salaries than their western counterparts.” Source

I’m not sure “significantly lower salaries” are the factor that should be driving the production of my life-sustaining medications.

Sorry, but I have no reason to assume the integrity of Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturers is any higher than the integrity of the Chinese gluten manufacturers who poisoned our pet food supply last year. My household dodged a pretty close bullet that time.

I have no reason to assume that if someone would cut corners on reinforced concrete, that his counterpart in a haphazardly regulated environment wouldn’t cut corners on a product produced primarily for export. I see rational business reasons for exporting food and drugs made to the highest standards of the importing countries, but Chinese producers seem oblivious to this kind of reasoning. It’s more like, “What immediately lines the pocket is what’s on the docket.”

Competent reassurance would not be unwelcome.

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