Thursday, December 8, 2022

Why a Secure Drug Supply Chain Matters

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association
       Shabbir Imber Safdar, Executive Director, Partnership for Safe Medicines

Since the start of the AIDS crisis, people living HIV (PLWHA) have looked forward to a day when medicines could allow them to live a life in which their HIV is undetectable and untransmittable (otherwise known as, “UequalsU). Today, PLWHA with access to treatment and adherent to their antiretroviral therapy are expected to live well into their 80’s. There is so much promise in the fight to end the epidemic. 

PLWHA can be confident of the security of those medications from fraudsters because they are protected by the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). This medication protection system, originally created in 2013, completes its rollout next year in 2023. It assigns a number to each package of medicine at time of manufacture, and that number is tracked at every change of ownership from factory to distributor to pharmacist. “Track and trace” is the name associated with this drug supply safety system.

Pharmacist scanning Rx medicines
Photo Source: Pharmaceutical Technology

Though criminals never stop trying to defraud patients and pharmacists, we know the DSCSA works because it has been tested. A pharmacist in Texas who checked the serial numbers on “too-cheap-to-be-true” HIV medicine discovered fraud and returned that medicine to the seller without dispensing it to patients. Furthermore, because these kinds of serial numbers allow very fine-grained tracking of medicine in the supply chain, no broad recalls were necessary which might have taken perfectly good medicine off the market and endangered patient access.

DSCSA has protected PLWHA and all patients in the United States, but as with any system, it needs support. There are two key places where the federal government needs to help:

  • Charge people who forge DSCSA paperwork with DSCSA fraud
Criminals, such as the recent spate of HIV counterfeit criminals, have yet to be charged with criminal offenses for DSCSA fraud. In fact, to-date there is no record of anyone ever having been charged with DSCSA fraud. To protect patients there must be a deterrent to forging DSCSA paperwork, and to do that, the DOJ must ensure that this crime draws a criminal charge.

There are currently 140 defendants in the existing civil litigation brought by Gilead Sciences and Johnson and Johnson Healthcare Systems against the criminals trafficking in counterfeit and diverted HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV) medications. Not even one has drawn a criminal charge of forging DSCSA paperwork. 

The Biden Administration’s Department of Justice needs to make prosecution of criminals who violate the DSCSA a priority with resources and training.

  • Do not undermine the DSCSA for political expediency
For decades it has been in vogue to suggest buying medicine from other countries to make it cheaper. However, countries suggested, like Canada, don’t have a system like DSCSA and we cannot provide this same level of safety assurance to patients and pharmacists. Regulations that intentionally break the DSCSA, like the regulations that govern bulk importation of drugs from Canada that break the DSCSA will endanger HIV, HCV, and many other categories of American patients.

The Administration’s Department of Health & Human Services needs to revoke the rules governing bulk importation until Canada has an interoperable DSCSA system to protect medicine imported.

Ensure broad understanding of DSCSA features for physicians

As the DSCSA finishes its rollout, one part of the dispenser community unlikely to get the message is physicians who administer long-acting HIV injectables. These injectables, which can control HIV with just two shots every month or two months, are an enormous innovation.

However recent history includes a few failures of physicians to understand the dangers of criminals in the supply chain, including:

Unlike pills taken by PLWHA, which can be examined by the pharmacist and patient, injectables administered by physicians don’t necessarily have this protection. Additional steps are needed to ensure patients can participate in medication verification safety. All too often, patients never see touch the injectable, and likely never see the packaging it came in. Physicians, who are not typically trained to check pharmaceutical wholesaler licenses or verify DSCSA safety features, have repeatedly been the targets for criminals. PLWHA need to be empowered to involve themselves more in this process.

How to Spot Fake HIV Medicines
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As the DSCSA rollout proceeds, we urge the Biden Administration to resource the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) so they can prioritize education of physicians about the new security features of the DSCSA and the risks to their patients and their practice if they ignore them.

People living with HIV in the United States have witnessed significant progress in managing their condition. The advent of new medicines has greatly improved their quality of life greatly, and equally the safety of their drug supply has been enhanced by the Drug Supply Chain Security Act. It’s critical that we do everything possible to support it.

Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.  

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