In a report on recent drug recalls, one risk analyst suggests they don’t. Aggressive cost-cutting in both in manufacturing operations and in the supply chain may be contributing to the quality problems that have led to a wave of product recalls in the drug supply recently, a Reuters report suggests this week.

Seeking out the cheapest materials, both those that go in the drugs and those involved in their manufacture and transport (like the wood pallets treated with chemicals that seeped into recalled bottles of Johnson & Johnson products and Pfizer’s Lipitor), has not only made he supply chain more complex, but diluted the control—and even awareness—drug makers have over their supply chains.

We thought this insight from the article was especially illuminating:

“Things that were off the table in the past are now on the table,” said Jim Lawton, president of Dun & Bradstreet Supply Management Solutions, which tracks and monitors supply chain risks for clients.

“As a result you’ve got all these supply chains now that are fragmented across all sorts of companies and they’re all geographically dispersed,” Lawton said.

“My guess is they (J&J and Pfizer) don’t even know who the pallet manufacturer is, and yet they’re on the hook at the end of the day for whether or not consumers think they can buy Tylenol and if it’s going to be a safe product to ingest.”

The FDA’s Hamburg agreed that supply chains are getting much more complex. “There are many, many more players involved as a drug moves through the distribution process and at every point along the way is a point where there needs to be attention or problems may occur,” she said.

And many countries don’t come close to having the same quality control standards as a drugmakers’ home turf.

“I work with a company that had outsourced something to China and the manufacturer in China had turned around and outsourced a key portion of that to sub-Saharan Africa, and yet my customer is saying, ‘I didn’t even know we had suppliers in Africa.’ And they are just exposed,” Lawton said.

Learn more about securing the drug supply chain at the Pew Prescription Project.

–Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger