Where Was My Pill Made?
Posted by Rob Jenner on Mar 24, 2014 in Legal
When I look inside my shirt, the label says “made in the Philippines.” When I buy a cantaloupe, a sticker says “grown in Mexico.” When I look on a bottle of prescription medication, I can find no information about where the finished pills or their ingredients originated.
This is the dilemma presented to American consumers when it comes to increasingly urgent quality issues associated with generic medications made overseas. Have no doubt that most any pill you take traveled a long way to get to you. At least 40% of all medications are put in final, finished form overseas. At least 80% of ingredients in all medications in the U.S. are furnished by overseas suppliers.
U.S. Oversight is Limited
The FDA requires that generics have the same active ingredient in the same quantity as its brand name equivalent. But generics can have different fillers, binders and coloring agents. Any one of these ingredients can be manufactured at a different foreign plant. And while the FDA monitors pharmaceutical plants carefully in the U.S., it doesn’t have the manpower – much less the authority – to adequately regulate manufacturing operations overseas.
Stories have surfaced in the news for years about dirty manufacturing plants, wildly varying formulations and active ingredients that are missing or so contaminated that they are ineffective. One of the latest, “Dirty Medicine” appeared in 2013 in Fortune Magazine. In the last nine months, four major Indian manufacturing facilities have been banned from selling products in the U.S. because of such practices. The problem has become so prolific, the FDA just announced it is funneling $20 million to research centers across the country to begin testing generic medications and see what’s really in them.
How to Locate a Pill’s Manufacturer
Meanwhile, what kind of information is available about where a generic was manufactured? With a little bit of digging, you may be able to find out:
1) Look at the label. Along with the name of the medication, the manufacturer is sometimes noted on the bottle.
2) Look at the pill. With the help of a magnifying glass (or a teenager), look for a code number or a symbol. Also note the pill’s specific shape or color.
2) Go to your computer. Type in the code, shape or color into one of several pill identifying databases offered by websites, like WebMD, and this should yield the manufacturer where the pill was finished or packaged.
3) Go to the manufacturer’s website to find where it’s located.
4) Or you can skip all of the above and ask your pharmacist.
Sources of Pill Ingredients Difficult to Pinpoint
But that still doesn’t tell you where the ingredients in the pill came from. Even the pharmacist can’t tell you that for sure. A lot of chain pharmacies buy in bulk from overseas and then re-package medications, so even the store’s lot information may be wrong. Manufacturers themselves won’t tell you that since it’s considered “proprietary information.”
What’s to be done? In a time when shirts and cantaloupes, car parts and building materials can be tracked digitally for inventory purposes, the FDA should mandate that any pharmaceutical company selling to American consumers (okay – all consumers!) digitally code their products. That way, if contamination is found, it can be traced to the source. Then, any company found in violation can be banned from U.S. sales. If “rotten apples” in the supply chain can be swiftly identified and punished, their numbers will surely decrease.