December 10, 2021

Senators Warren, Rubio Urge Department of Defense to Address National Security, Health Risks from Overreliance on Pharmaceuticals Produced Abroad

DoD Inspector General Report: DoD Has Not Taken Adequate Steps to Protect its Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Washington, D.C. – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Gregory Kausner, who is performing the duties of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment at the Department of Defense (DoD), urging him to address DoD’s overreliance on pharmaceuticals produced abroad. This overreliance creates vulnerable supply chains that pose serious risks to national security and the health of servicemembers. Their letter follows a DoD Inspector General report that found that the Department has failed to assess and mitigate risks to its pharmaceutical supply chains. 

“DoD’s medical and pharmaceutical supply chain has a unique set of concerns and vulnerabilities that, if left unaddressed, represent a serious risk to national security. As our nation continues to confront challenges to our supply chains, we urge you to prioritize the challenges to the Department and the national security risks posed by overreliance on pharmaceuticals produced abroad,” the senators wrote.

Millions of Americans, including servicemembers, rely on pharmaceuticals produced abroad. Reports have shown that less than one-third of facilities that manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in prescription drugs are made in the United States and that the nation has limited domestic manufacturing capability to make essential drugs, such as generic antibiotics, which are commonly prescribed to servicemembers. Only 28% of facilities making APIs and 47% of facilities making finished drugs for Americans are located in the United States. 

The senators noted that the risks of relying on other countries for medical supplies was made clear during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when “shortages in crucial medical supplies such as syringes, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and pharmaceuticals hampered the nation’s response to the pandemic in the early months. Any interruption to the supply of APIs or other pharmaceuticals from foreign manufacturers, either accidental or by design, would have similarly devastating consequences.” Experts have also testified that adversaries can use the supply and effectiveness of medicines as a weapon of war.

The senators referenced a recent report from DoD’s Office of the Inspector General that validated these concerns. It found that a disruption of foreign-made APIs would affect the entire American health care system and could compromise care for servicemembers. It also found that DoD did not proactively address the risks of potential supply chain disruptions for pharmaceuticals. 

“The Department must consider pharmaceuticals in its work to shore up vulnerable supply chains important to national security just as it does for semiconductors, microelectronics, and rare earth minerals. We urge you to focus on this important and consequential aspect of supply chain risk management,” the senators wrote. 

Senators Warren and Rubio have led an ongoing bipartisan effort to address the nation’s overreliance on pharmaceuticals produced in other countries. Earlier this year, they reintroduced the U.S. Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Review Act, which would help DoD address the national security risks of its pharmaceutical supply chain vulnerabilities. They also introduced the Strengthening Supply Chains for Servicemembers and Security Act, which would require DoD to implement recommendations from its Office of the Inspector General report.