Conversations Wrap Up: Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Keeping Our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Secure

11.05.13 | By John Castellani

The U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain is the most secure in the world in part because of strong industry and government collaboration.  One benefit is that American patients can have confidence that the prescription medications they purchase from a reputable pharmacy are true to the label.

No system, however, is completely invulnerable and counterfeit drug makers are always seeking new ways to foist fake drugs onto the market. Preventing the possibility of a safety breech requires a near-constant vigilance of security policies and procedures - from manufacturing all the way through distribution to patients - to make sure the right medicines reach the right patient. 

In last week’s Conversations Forum we looked at the issue and asked:

Are we doing enough to ensure the security of the nation’s pharmaceutical supply chain?

Our contributors represented key parts of the medicine supply chain and brought their unique perspective and expertise to the challenges at hand.  A few overarching themes emerge from the conversation.

Identifying fakes

The best way to keep dangerous medicines out of patient’s hands is to have a system that can identify counterfeits that enter the market – a national track-and-trace system – according to Anthony Maddaluna, EVP & President of Pfizer Global Supply, This would provide greater safety and integrity by requiring that all prescription drugs contain technology to identify its authentic source and history. It’s a widely debated concept within the industry. 

Scott LaGanga, PhRMA VP of Public Affairs and Alliance Development, highlighted INTERPOL’s Operation Pangea VI as a successful law enforcement program that is reducing the amount of counterfeit drugs in the marketplace. Just this summer, Operation Pangea VI seized nearly 10 million doses of fake or illegal prescription drugs and closed 9,600 illegal online pharmacies.

Cohesive laws

According to Chip Meyers, Jr., vice president of corporate public affairs for UPS, supply chain vulnerabilities exist because of a piecemeal regulatory approach. “The existing patchwork of state laws … fail to leverage uniform technology and policies,” he said. As a global shipping company, UPS interacts with various levels of security and scrutiny in countries around the world. Chip suggests that the absence of a comprehensive global strategy to address counterfeit medicines leaves the U.S. supply chain more vulnerable than most believe. 

The security of the pharmaceutical supply chain is particularly important to HIV/AIDS patients who rely on essential medication to treat their condition, says Brian Hujdich, executive director of HealthHIV. To better secure the supply chain, Brian advocates passing the Drug Supply Chain Security Act and the Drug Security Act to help establish a national set of drug security standards.

Better education 

While bad actors will likely always try to interfere with the security of the pharmaceutical supply chain, improving general knowledge about the dangers of counterfeit medicines could do a lot to discourage their proliferation. Partnership for Safe Medicines President Marv Shepherd thinks there’s a lot more that has to be done to help patients, pharmacists, doctors, nurses and hospital staff  be better educated about the dangers of purchasing prescription medications from “shady sources.”

Finally, Bill Arnold, CEO of Community Access National Network, agreed that education plays a major role in ensuring “substandard medicines do not find their way into medicine cabinets of American patients.” Bill charges the FDA, physicians and pharmacists with the responsibility of making sure that patients are fully educated about the risks of purchasing medicines from questionable sources.

Overall, this conversation was a great discussion of how we can do a better job of protecting patients and securing America’s medicines supply chain. Continued dialog and cooperation in the search for solutions that work for patients will continue, but I am very grateful to every contributor to the conversation and encourage you to share your own ideas in our comments section.

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