Drug recalls put spotlight on drug supply chains

Nearly 80% of medications Americans take have some component made abroad, largely in China and India.

Nearly 80% of medications Americans take have some component made abroad, largely in China and India. Although globalization has helped keep drug costs down, it has also created a supply chain that is difficult to police and leaves drug companies vulnerable to recalls, says Robert Handfield, director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative at North Carolina State University. "As pharmaceutical companies have started to go offshore, they're getting more quality issues, more product recalls," Handfield says. "It's definitely a trend we're seeing." Since this summer, several batches of three generic drugs used to treat high blood pressure have been recalled because they were tainted with chemicals listed as probable human carcinogens. An FDA spokesman says the agency is still investigating the cause of the contamination, but inspectors suspect the compounds were the unintended byproduct of chemicals being mixed. Officials say there has been improvement in recent years, including more inspections of foreign establishments, while the Drug Supply Chain Security Act will soon require manufacturers to start adding labels to their products to help regulators trace them through the supply chain. Adam Garber of the consumer watchdog Public Interest Research Group says drug manufacturing moved overseas to reduce costs with little public discussion about safety. Although efforts to increase inspections are good, he says the companies on the consumer end of the supply chain may need closer scrutiny from regulators.