Key ingredients in American pharmaceuticals aren’t made in America.
By and large, they are manufactured abroad, mostly in China, according to reporting we first saw from NBC News.
Even before the coronavirus turned American culture upside down, Chinese control of America’s pharmaceutical supply chain had national security experts worried.
Medicines for high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, epilepsy and depression — just to cite a few — are tied to Chinese manufacturers, according to the NBC reports. The United States hasn’t been able to manufacture penicillin since 2004.
Contamination — intentional or not — is a danger, and so is supply interruption. A trade war or the spread of a superbug could easily cut off shipping lanes to China, leaving Americans sick and unable to do much about it.
Things got this way gradually by companies and individuals following their own perceived best interests. Chinese companies could make the drugs more cheaply, even when the costs of shipping across the Pacific Ocean are part of the calculation. That undercut American manufacturers, whose choices were to move manufacturing abroad or fail.
But having a single supply line that stretches around the globe for life-sustaining products from a nation that envies our superpower status and our economic success is just plain stupid. The threat of pharmaceutical extortion could warp our national policy just as reliance on international oil did in the 1970s and 80s.
As a nation we have decided that some products — defense contractors, for example — are too critical to our national security to allow them to slip from domestic production. It’s important enough that we break our own rules of free trade and open markets by making sure they are healthy and here.
How is it that life-sustaining pharmaceuticals don’t fall into that same category?