Distribution System OK, but it can be Exploited

Publication: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Author: Allan Coukell

08/29/2011 - A recent op-ed (“Gouging threatens supply of medicines,” ajc.com, Aug. 18) brings much-needed attention to the problem of drug distribution security, but mischaracterizes one crucial aspect of a Pew Health Group report on U.S. drug safety. Our paper describes the intricacies of the legitimate pharmaceutical supply chain and how gaps in control and oversight create opportunities for illegal activity. The current distribution system itself — while complex — is not a “gray market,” as described in the op-ed.

Drug distribution may involve many trading partners, which can make it difficult to determine the products’ sources or authenticity. Medicines are often bought and sold across state lines; moved in whole or partial lots; and repackaged or relabeled. These practices may be appropriate, but bad actors also may exploit vulnerabilities in this system.

Policymakers can protect patients by strengthening wholesaler oversight, and implementing a national system to monitor medicines more closely as they move through the supply chain. We look forward to working with Congress to enact policies ensuring that the drugs in Americans’ medicine cabinets are safe.

Allan Coukell, director, Medical Programs, Pew Health Group

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