Are drug ingredients made in China a risk to troops? Two lawmakers think so

It seems like the military is talking about supply chain constantly now, but that’s mostly in the context of technological systems. A bipartisan duo of lawmakers are thinking about another supply chain, though — the one that stocks service members’ prescription drugs.

House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) introduced a bill last week to look into the military’s dependence on China for pharmaceuticals.

“It is very clear that the Chinese government controls fundamental pharmaceutical drugs that are essential for all of our wellbeing,” Garamendi told Federal News Network. “Drugs that deal with things like infection like doxycycline, drugs that deal with surgeries like heparin and many of the other generic drugs. All of them have ingredients that are made in China and almost exclusively in China.”

The bill, called the Pharmaceutical Independence Long-Term Readiness Reform bill, requires DoD to report on vulnerabilities faced by a dependence on Chinese drugs, and to only purchase American-made raw materials, medicines and vaccines for the military.

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The report would be due to Congress one year after the passage of the bill and would require DoD to identify raw materials necessary for the manufacture of medicine whose supply is as risk. The report would also identify shortages of drugs essential for combat readiness and to point out contingencies if the drug supply line is disrupted.

“In 2007 and 2008, 246 Americans died as a result of a contamination that occurred with heparin,” Garamendi said. “That contamination was directly linked to the base product that came from China. There is a probability that it was deliberately contaminated in China. The Food and Drug Administration does not have any ability to look into the manufacturing of these foundational ingredients to a wide range of generic drugs.”

Garamendi and Hartzler are concerned that since China is a main adversary of the United States that it may try to contaminate drugs, or cut important ingredients off for drugs, used by service members.

“Put simply, China having control over the production of our military’s medicine poses a grave national security threat. Not only does it open the possibility of them deliberately manipulating our service member’s medical regimens and causing physical harm, but the Chinese government’s lack of proper oversight and regulatory standards on prescription drugs is also deeply alarming to me. We need to ensure that our military’s medicine is American-made,” Hartzler said in a press release.

Garamendi said forcing DoD to buy only American-made ingredients and drugs may be more expensive, but it will be worth it considering the possible risks.

DoD is already looking into supply chain issues with China in other areas.

The Pentagon is looking into how it can get rare earth minerals that it needs to build electronics and other systems, since China has a stranglehold on the market.

DoD is also looking into what electronics it buys. The military already cut out ZTE and Huawei over fears that the Chinese companies might place instruments that could spy on the United States within their electronics.

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