made in China

Do you know where your medicines come from? It can actually be something of a challenge to find out, because unlike shirts or apples, drugs do not have to be labeled with country of origin. As it turns out, over the past two decades, the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry has followed the same route as many other industries. Now, experts estimate that about four-fifths of the medications we take were made in China or India.

A high proportion of these are generic drugs that the FDA has approved as equivalent to the brand name product. But how good is the quality control? FDA has limited ability and personnel to inspect manufacturing facilities in China.

Valsartan Made in China:

A recent recall underscores the potential hazards. On July 5, 2018, the European Medicines Agency recalled the blood pressure pill valsartan made by the Zhejiang HuaHai Pharmaceutical Company in Linhai, China. Apparently the pills had been contaminated with a probable human carcinogen, NDMA. A week later, on July 13, 2018, the FDA followed suit and recalled valsartan alone or in combination with hydrochlorothiazide from Major Pharmaceuticals, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

Does It Matter If Your Pills Were Made in China?

If Chinese companies suddenly stopped providing active pharmaceutical ingredients or finished pharmaceutical products to the US, the health care system would be in trouble within a short time. So many of our medicines are made in China that critical drug shortages would endanger lives.

Our guest describes how the business of making drugs for the US market has changed and what the implications are. What, if anything, should we health care consumers do to protect ourselves?

This Week’s Guest:

Rosemary Gibson is a senior advisor at the Hastings Center, a Health Care Ethics research institute, and is the author of numerous books investigating healthcare issues. Most recently she co-authored China RX: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine, with Janardan Prasad Singh. Their book documents what has led to China’s increasing dominance in the manufacturing of medicine and the far-reaching consequences of this.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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Air Date:August 4, 2018

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  1. Chelsea Nolan

    I have fild a complaint to the FDA. I did some reading to learn more about the Solco distributed bupropion.,which the pharmacy randomly changed me to. I didn’t know of the change until about half way through the refill /month. I know for a fact it was not a placebo effect. All my symptoms the bupropion had been helping suddenly came back. I learned it is manufacturered in China by a company called Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.

    I came across TWO separate warning letters that this manufacturer has received from the FDA. If you have the time, please scan through the letters.
    I am just flabbergasted that the FDA has allowed this to continue.

    Things like faking test data records by copying the same over and over so as not to have to record and test new data – that’s just a snippet vague example of what they were caught doing.

    Even if you haven’t taken this particular generic , it is still very much worth the read as it directly correlates to bupropion generic issues Eye-opening and infuriating

  2. Linda A
    Atlanta USA

    First it was our pet food that was contaminated, then it was baby formula, and now our needed prescription drugs. The Chinese are not our friends in these actions, seemingly trying to kill us off one way or the other! Since drugs come from all over, not just the USA, it’s risky to be sick and needing prescription drugs at all. The “cure” may be worse than the sickness or condition!

  3. Mitch
    Boca Raton

    Greetings. Unfortunately, it seems no one cares. I have written to Congress, major pharmacies and my insurance carrier, but gotten basically no response. “Thanks for your comments.” I was prescribed a replacement drug for the tainted valsartan I took for three years called Irbesartan. I now know to ask for the bottle to see the manufacturer. Guess what, at three major pharmacies I visited the week of 10/26/18, they all were selling the generic made by Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceuticals (through Solco Healthcare in New Jersey as Distributor). I was floored. How could they be selling drugs made by this manufacturer after it caused the worldwide valsartan disaster? After the horrific FDA inspection of the Zhejiang facility in China
    (you can find that here: )

    What’s even worse, and more shameful, is that on September 28, 2018, the FDA announced that it was blocking imports to the US from Zhejiang Huahai Pharma and yet the three major chains I visited to get my generic irbesartan filled were selling the version distributed by Solco and made by Zhejiang Huahai. Shamelessly. One of the pharmacy techs told me, “It’s made in Cranbury, New Jersey.” I knew better – I said, let me see the bottle – and I pointed out that that New Jersey was the location of the distributor which is owned by Zhejiang Huahai in China which makes the drug. You can read about the import ban here:

    The european regulators also slammed them:

    People, I’m so disheartened. I took the tainted valsartan for 3 years. I thought the major US pharmacies cared about their customers. Nope, it’s about the money. They’re getting this Chinese garbage cheap. Further, my insurance company only permits me to use those pharmacies for reimbursement. Well, I’m paying out of pocket to go to CVS, which DOES NOT carry the Zhejiang Chinese made irbesartan. So in today’s world, I pay for insurance that sends me to pharmacies that carry medicines from known and blocked companies, only to pay out of pocket for a drug that isn’t made in China by this horrible company. Further, these other three major pharmacy chains have been sent letters by me about this. I await their responses, but I won’t hold my breath. My hope is that they pull the remaining garbage from this Chinese company off their shelves, even though they technically can sell their remaining supplies following the ban. I mean, who would buy that if they knew?

    People, you must look out for yourself. ASK THE PHARMACIST WHERE YOUR MEDICATION IS MADE. ASK TO SEE THE BOTTLE and look for the manufacturer. Don’t rely on them to tell you. The only way this will stop is if people quit buying these garbage generics.

    • Diane

      You’re absolutely correct! Received a letter and text from my medication that Losartan has been found with risks of developing cancer has been recalled as of 1-6-2019!

  4. Diane B E

    This is a horrible situation. We are not safe taking medications from China. In September I was awakened by a swollen tongue at 3AM. Took a Benadryl but no success. My husband took me to the ER where the swelling became worse and proceeded to do a tracheotomy. Was transferred to a trauma center where they fractured my trachea and vocal cords trying to intubate me. I was transferred to Stanford Hospital on a ventilator with now a punctured lung. I was in a coma for 9 days. I have researched Lisinopril and they have several law suits against them. I am positive it was made in China. I had been on Lisinopril for 17 years but the RX was a different color this time. Something has to be done. Not only is this fatal is it also a huge cost ie ambulance, ER, critical care etc.

    • Karen,RPh

      I’ve read that angioedema is a serious somewhat rare side effect of Lisinopril and other ACE inhibitors. I don’t think it is caused by a contaminant but rather by the drug itself. It is written up in medical literature. So your problem was most likely caused by the drug regardless of what brand you used.

  5. Diane
    Washington State

    The only way to solve this problem is to unite and demand our congress , whom we elected, especially the very vocal leaders take it on. I believe we all should have clear and concise access to all political donations made to those whom we elected to serve US before themselves.

    PS: My two drugs have increased exponentially in the last four years, and they are both generics, and made in China.

  6. Terri
    Matthews NC

    This is a just one example of money trumping everything else.

  7. Beverly
    Charlotte NC

    The host asks why isn’t the public more angry about this problem. The majority of people are unaware of the story. If this issue was front page and lead story not only on the news but also on shows like Dateline, 20/20 and morning chat fests, we’d have far more people incensed and demanding action. Unfortunately, there are interests out here who prefer to keep this topic out of the eyes and ears of the public. It will take a big effort from people who do know the story to inform others including their elected politicians and demand action be taken to make drugs safe. The best way to do that is to revive drug manufacturing industry in the US. Even with country of origin labeling, if there is no made in US alternative, the patient is still stuck with the China or other questionable country’s product. And meds administered in the hospital like chemo or for emergencies, the patient doesn’t have time to “shop around.” Rebuilding the US drug making industry will take effort but anything worthwhile does. We have the resources and can-do attitude, an attitude that hasn’t disappeared – just faded into the background. As for the higher cost of making drugs in the US, often this is an excuse given by those who profit from cheaper ingredients made elsewhere. Interesting how people were better off financially back in the days when most of our stuff was made in the US. Now even with cheaper goods made elsewhere, our household economic fortunes continue to decrease and now our health is being compromised as well.

  8. Marla

    I appreciate this show. This information really needs to go mainstream.

    I would most definitely like country of origin on medications and I would happily pay more for drugs from countries that I trust.

    As Ms. Gibson indicated, it really is a matter of national security. As with steel, we need to disincentivize pharmaceutical companies from manufacturing oversees or buying ingredients from oversees.

  9. Faye
    fort Walton Beach fl

    First Thank you for keeping us informed. I am just stunned that our government is not keeping us safe. And it is all just money and politics.

  10. Marge

    How can I find out if my blood pressure is made in China.

  11. jake

    Some politicians in the House & Senate have tried to get a bill that requires the country of origin listed on the drug bottle label one takes home. The big drug companies, however, give politicians so much money most will do anything the companies want. And they don’t want country or origin on the label.

  12. michael

    The FDA in the past has stated that checking drugs for contaminants isn’t their job.
    they are also supposed to check these foreign plants for quality every 3 years or so, they don’t.

  13. paint6

    I have known about this for several years and continue to ask my pharmacist where my meds is from. They will look at the bottle and cannot figure out where it came from or was made. They pass it off. Disgusting.

  14. Mike

    I thought it was an excellent program but not sure why privatization for profit shouldnt include accountability for health and safety nor why the AMA would put up with doctors being put in a position to “do harm” by prescribing unsafe drugs. American companies including those who use materials from overseas have an ethical and moral responsibility for the product they sell for profit in the US.

    And there is no excuse for selling a dangerous drug in the US. If companies had the consumers interest at heart(and they should so they would continue buying their product) and their reputations, why couldnt testing take place to confirm what they are buying(the FDA could do this also along with onsite inspections which provide data relevant only for that inspection time). And oh yes, that would cost more. With the cost savings achieved by going offshore did drug prices go down? Unfortunately, many companies find it ethical(cheaper) to do the right thing if there is a cost to doing harm but with no penalties for doing harm I am guessing we are in for a long haul.

    And I have to add, there are many companies who do the right thing because it is important to their leadership and the company runs that way. Having worked for one for 30 years I know it is possible and profitable. Always a choice!

  15. Maggie

    Doctors are aware of some problems. My doctor will only prescribe the name brand Synthroid for my low thyroid condition. The generic is all over the place with the amount it contains and it can be way too high or way too low. This appears to be common knowledge. I don’t mind paying $45 a month for the right dose but it’s a shame people have to. Now I’m worrying about the safety of all my medications!

  16. PAUL

    Thank you for presenting this. Please thank the author.

    • Cheryl
      Springfield MO

      A few years ago my insurance company said they would only pay for the generic (levothyroxine) instead of Synthroid. The fillers to inactive ingredients made me very sick at my stomach. Therefore I pay the higher price for synthroid. I bet the reason for my sickness was just as this story explained. Wake up FDA and do your job! If you think testing is not your job then what is your responsibility for making sure we are not poisoned by countries that have no accountability for making a safe product?

  17. Charles B., MD, PhD
    North Carolina

    One of my patients on metoprolol (a GENERIC DRUG that used to have a minimal copay) came to my office today in the a.m., saying that when he went to pick up a refill yesterday it had an 80-dollar copay. He said he could not pay for it. Just recently, in JULY, this medication shot WAY UP in price. I immediately called in a substitute medication because his life depends on this medication preventing his heart from beating too fast.

    I believe this sudden increase in price is because the metoprolol is being produced mainly in China and might be suspect. So the USA price of available metoprolol outside of China has suddenly be driven up by the Valsartan debacle. This person could die as a result of this situation. This is an absurdity. All I can say is that if the American people let this stand, they will reap a whirlwind of increasing prices and inability to afford their healthcare. It is intolerable from a medical care standpoint that a drug as crucial as metoprolol should suddenly have a huge price increase because of the stupidity & avarice of OUR pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy “benefit” managers.

  18. Marcella

    I have long been troubled by the fact that many of our meds and oftentimes the ingredients they are made from come from China, and I am happy to learn that I am not alone. We can remedy this situation by manufacturing our own medicines until we get to the place where we can go it alone and not rely on other countries for resources so critical to our survival. We do not need to do this abruptly and put our health care system in crisis, but we desperately need to begin the process now.

    I am also concerned about the increase of cancer cases. Why the rapid increase in cases, and why our progress in defeating this disease is so slow? We cannot make progress unless we can verify the quality of ingredients that make up our medicines. How did we become so dependent on others? I just hope that it’s not too late to begin work and solve these problems.

  19. Vandora

    The problem is due to valuing profit over consumer safety. I know that many manufacturers use Chinese parts or products made in China. However, making more profit by using countries known for problems with medications is not safe. There is a huge difference between cell phones and medications ingested by people. The health “industry” compounds the problem by working with drug companies to keep production costs down and profits up.

    Since the FDA and other consumer advocate programs suffer from budget cuts, what do we do if we need a drug that is made in China and have to use that drug? Have studies been done (perhaps by self-funded philanthropic organizations?) to determine how widespread this problem is?

    Perhaps Americans should be allowed to buy drugs from Canada or other countries with proven safety records and doctors and pharmacists permitted to specifically prescribe these drugs. I hate to say that I don’t trust the US government to make safety more important than profit or other reasons, but I just don’t.

  20. JB

    Thank you for your podcast on drugs coming from China. I am Canadian and was shocked when I received a call in July from the Family Physician’s office that the Valsartan that I was taking for several years was recalled. Did some searching on internet and discovered that China was involved in this drug. Other than clothing, which all seems to be made in Asia including mostly China, I do not buy food or skin lotions/creams that is made in China. Recently received a gift of hand, body and shower that was made in China.

    Today, before receiving your email with podcast, was checking the ingredients, and many were carcinogenic. This was the third time I have received such gifts and the second time from one friend. Had thrown out the previous gifts but decided to check ingredients. Thinking of a diplomatic way to tell the friends not to buy me any such gifts from China. Finally, I do agree with Luke from Florida that “Everything is made in China.”

  21. Jim
    Metro Raleigh, NC

    I always read OTC med labels and avoid those made in China, India, or other non-Western countries b/c of lax regulation and oversight. For example, I discovered Walmart has two sources for their 20 mg Omeprazole acid reducer, India and Israel. One makes the 28-ct and the other produces the 42-ct.

    BTW, American friends living in China (working for a global US firm) say their highly educated Chinese co-workers will only feed their infants imported western baby food and they also purchase meds made abroad whenever possible. There’s a lesson here for those who rant about gov: Safe medicines, foods, cars, buildings, water, clean air, etc. require effective, standards, monitoring, and enforcement…”government.”

  22. Julie
    North Carolina

    Joe & Terry never disappoint! I learned about this important issue on C-SPAN ( and knew they would share it here ~ thoroughly and professionally as is usual for them. Thank you!

    • Louie b F

      North Carolina Julie, im w/you! Joe and Terry are WONDROUS!

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