NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Voters Trust Drugs Made In United States, But Few Are

August 4, 2010

More than three out of four voters are confident that prescription drugs made in the United States are free from contamination, while fewer than one in 10 feel confident about medications made in India or China, according to a poll released this week by the Pew Charitable Trust's Prescription Project. 

According to Allan Coukell, a pharmacist who directs the medical safety portfolio for the Pew Health Group: 

  • Unbeknownst to many Americans, an estimated 80 percent of the substances used to make or package drugs sold here are made in other countries.
  • And a growing proportion come from India or China; in 2007, 68 percent of ingredients of drugs sold worldwide came from India or China, versus 49 percent in 2004. 

Not that consumers can tell where medications were made, Coukell says.  "When you buy a shirt, it will say right on the label where it was made, but when you get a pharmaceutical, you don't know." 

Monitoring far-flung plants presents a logistical challenge to the Food and Drug Administration, Coukell says.  "They clearly don't have the people or the resources they need to oversee manufacturing the way it exists today." 

  • In 2007 and 2008, more than 100 patients in the United States died after taking heparin made with a contaminated active ingredient from China.
  • Complicating matters is the FDA's inability to order recalls of batches of drugs that might pose a risk (the FDA can withdraw approval of a drug, taking it off the U.S. market entirely).
  • Even so, drug recalls soared 400 percent from 2008 to 2009, which saw a record 1,742, according to the Drug Safety and Accountability Act of 2010, to be introduced this week by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
  • Bennet's bill would empower the FDA to order recalls of unsafe batches of drugs. 

According to the Pew random nationwide survey of 802 registered voters, 55 percent say the government should do more to ensure the safety of drugs made in other countries, and nearly nine in 10 back legislation to implement new drug safety measures. 

Source: Rita Rubin, "Voters trust drugs made in USA, but few are," USA Today, August 2, 2010. 

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