Sen. Michael Bennet: Making our medicines safer

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Located on every gallon of milk at any grocery store in the state of Colorado is a bar code that contains the history of that particular gallon — what dairy farm it originated from, where it was pasteurized and when it expires, among other things. If there is a contaminated batch or an outbreak of disease, officials can trace where this milk came from and quickly respond. 

If you were to wander over a few more aisles at that same grocery store to the pharmacy, you may be surprised to learn that no similar system of protection is in place. In fact, pharmacists cannot determine with any certainty where a prescription drug has been and whether it has been secured or safely stored on its way to the pharmacy.

Making matters worse, there is no uniform oversight of this supply chain, where prescription drugs pass through many different hands (manufacturers, distributors, dispensers and re-packagers). All that exists is a patchwork of state regulations that vary enormously from state to state.

Compare that to airport security. If every major U.S. airport had different security processes, with some easier to circumvent than others, imagine which one a terrorist would prefer.

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. In 2009, nearly 130,000 vials of insulin where stolen, left unrefrigerated and later found across the country in a national pharmacy chain after patients began reporting poor control of their insulin levels. Less than 2 percent of the insulin ever was recovered. And just a year ago, contaminated compounded drugs from a center in New England caused a meningitis outbreak, which killed 64 people.

All that’s about to change.

A few weeks ago, the most comprehensive drug safety bill in a quarter century became law. The Drug Quality and Security Act would track prescription drugs from the time they are manufactured to the moment they are delivered to the drugstore — like UPS or Fedex, but for prescription drugs instead of packages. And it won’t add a penny to our deficit.

These supply chain security provisions are the culmination of more than two years of bipartisan work we did with Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, in conjunction with a wide range of business and consumer groups. In a dysfunctional Congress that deservedly has earned its reputation for unprecedented levels of partisan gridlock, this bill passed the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously. It is a shining example of what can be achieved when we put our political differences aside and work to tackle tough problems.

Our common-sense proposal will help reduce the burden of a cumbersome patchwork regulatory system, driving costs down, while also protecting families from counterfeit or tainted drugs. Now, we’ll know who has handled the medicine we take and give to our kids and where and when they handled it.

If Colorado fruit growers can track a peach from the tree to the store, consumers should reasonably expect the same level of scrutiny for their prescription drugs. Pharmacists in Colorado fill more than 60 million prescriptions every single year, and for many of us, the medications we take can mean the difference between life and death. Families purchasing these drugs deserve to know they are safe. Now, with the bipartisan and pragmatic Drug Quality and Security Act, they can have that peace of mind.

Comments

Dan Hill 1 year ago

"It won't add a penny to our deficit..."

So it's free. Yah, another free lunch out of Washington.

Hold on a minute, someone is going to have to pay for the systems and labor to track these drugs. It's OK, the evil, evil, evil big pharmaceutical companies will pay, right? They won't pass this on in the form of higher drug costs.

OK, maybe they will. But don't worry. Medicare / Medicaid / Obamacare is paying for your drugs so they'll pick up the extra costs. But it won't add a penny to our deficit. Or your employer will pay for it in your health insurance. Too bad the extra premiums will kill any chance you'll ever see another pay rise.

I don't know whether the benefits of this new legislation outweigh the costs, but when its proponents are pretending that there are no costs, which seems to be the standard political approach these days, I am deeply, deeply suspicious.

It's time the voters stopped falling for this nonsense. Believing in Santa Claus (benefits without costs) is cute in a five year old, not so much in adults.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

The costs of these requirements may be close to zero because it is what already most in the industry are already doing. Most manufacturers want to be able to recall a contaminated drug and be able to identify attempts at counterfeiting their drugs. This goes after the shoddy drug businesses. Which is why it passed unanimously.

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Fred Duckels 1 year ago

Bennett, Udahl and Dianne are fond of putting propaganda out that shows their compassion and concern by using small items that have bipartisan support. Let's talk about Obamacare, carbon gimmicks, guns or the nuclear option and they evaporate. Woe be it to the lefty that wanders off the reservation, Conforming to the party line will pay dividends down the road to those willing to prostitute themselves at all costs.

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