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Drug shortage warning serves as wake-up call

Shaving a few dollars off the cost to consumers of some medicines — and yes, padding profits on their sale — have led many U.S. drug companies to rely on overseas manufacturers for the products.

Last week, the truth of warnings against such dependence was proven. U.S. public health officials reported a certain drug — which they would not identify — has become scarce in this country because of manufacturing difficulties in China. The trouble is linked to the COVID-19 outbreak that is centered in China and has killed at least 3,000 people there.

Food and Drug Administration officials had asked 180 drug companies to monitor their operations, including supplies from overseas, for potential shortages. About 20 drugs obtained exclusively from China are the focus, FDA officials said — again without identifying the products.

Chinese manufacturers are just as interested as U.S. drug companies in profit, of course. The conclusion is that something related to the COVID-19 outbreak made it unavoidable for the Chinese producer to keep up with demand.

But, as has been pointed out, reliance on foreign manufacturers for many products consumed by Americans could be a problem should Washington’s relations with those nations go sour. The COVID-19-related shortage reinforces that warning.

Certain products, including life-saving medicines, simply cannot be turned over to foreign suppliers in any country. Some backup system of manufacturing needs to be available, possibly in the form of mothballed but well-maintained production equipment. U.S. officials should be looking into that.

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