- - Sunday, August 16, 2020

Our nation has a serious problem when it comes to pharmaceuticals and prescription generic drugs. The problem is we are dependent on them from our most powerful adversary — China. This problem must be urgently addressed because it threatens the health of our citizens and represents a threat to our national security.

Pharmaceutical products made in China include antibiotics such as amoxicillin and tetracycline; high blood pressure medications such as valsartan; the anti-blood clotting heparin; anti-depressants; HIV/AIDS medications; birth control pills; chemotherapy treatments; and medications for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship earlier this year, Rosemary Gibson testified that the United States faces an existential threat from China and its control over the global supply of ingredients in thousands of essential generic medicines.

Ms. Gibson is a senior adviser at the Hastings Center and author of the book “China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine.” The Hastings Center addresses social and ethical issues in health care, science and technology.

In her testimony, Ms. Gibson said that 90% of the medicines used in the United States in hospital intensive care units, emergency rooms and ambulances and sold in big box stores and drug stores are generic. Thousands of them are made with chemical compounds and ingredients from China.

Ms. Gibson testified that 90% of the chemical ingredients for generics in the United States to care for people with serious coronavirus infections and who are hospitalized are sourced from China.

The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), a military support organization that advocates for a strong national defense, is one of the few organizations that have taken a position on our reliance on foreign countries for pharmaceuticals — urging the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure the pharmaceutical sector of our national industrial base does not force us to procure medications from strategic adversaries. The MOAA believes that our dependency on China is a threat to our national security, along with the threat to our civilian population.

Just think of the possible implications if we were to ever enter into a conflict with China (certainly a possibility). How would we treat our forces on the battlefield when our potential adversary controls the drugs our troops would require?

In her book, Ms. Gibson offers a chilling statement: “The truth is that America’s dependence on a single country for active ingredients, raw materials and chemical building blocks for so many essential medicines is a risk of epic proportions.”

It’s time for the United States and its leadership to recognize the magnitude and seriousness of this problem. The coronavirus has heightened the need for our nation to have a more reliable, internal source for essential medications.

Moreover, the rhetoric we have seen from China regarding our supply of drugs has not been comforting. In fact, it has been downright threatening. China has basically said it has the potential to weaponize medicines. Earlier this year, the Chinese Communist Party propaganda outlet said China could cut off supplies of life-saving medicines to the United States, dooming us to “sink into the hell of a novel coronavirus epidemic.” These are not words from a peace-loving country that seeks global friends.

Regardless of how one feels about President Trump and the current administration, all Americans should take note of some of his recent actions that attempt to turn our dependency on China around.

He recently signed an executive order that will move us in the right direction. It is by no means the “be all, end all” solution nor the ultimate antidote. But it represents a step in the right direction to wean us off our Chinese addiction.

The executive order mandates a “buy American” requirement for government agencies. It will require agencies such as the DOD and the VA to purchase essential medicines, medical equipment and protective gear from U.S. companies.

But we don’t need patchwork fixes to solve this addiction. It’s time for Congress to map out a course of action to remedy it. Several members have introduced various pieces of legislation that could help eliminate our dependence on China for pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, these initiatives have gone nowhere. They have most likely fallen victim to the special interest groups supported by the large pharmaceutical companies. By his executive order, the president has, in essence, taken the issue into his own hands.

The issue of our dependency on China for our pharmaceuticals should not be a partisan issue. It isn’t. It’s an American issue. This is the time to forego the internal political warfare and special interests that have come to characterize how our political leaders face problems and challenges. The health and safety of our nation and its citizens are at risk.

• Tom Jurkowsky, a retired Navy rear admiral and board member of the non-profit Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), is the author of the recently released “The Secret Sauce for Organizational Success: Communications and Leadership on the Same Page.” 

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