May 25, 2017 - In the developed world, especially in the United States, we are fortunate enough to live in an environment where we don’t have to worry about how our medications and medical products get to us. Our supply chains are so secure that we don’t often have to think about how our medicines get to us. We live in a country where we can walk into a pharmacy or convenience store and pick up products that are what we expect – and depend on –them to be. That is, when we pick up a box of toothpaste or a bottle of painkillers, we often don't wonder if the contents are safe, or what they are labeled as. This is not a function of simply being in the United States, or another developed country. This is a result of stable and secure supply chains and the processes that are in place to ensure that medical products are developed, produced and transported to consumers and patients safely.
While supply chain security might not be the most glamorous topic, it is critical to the safe delivery of medicines. The legitimate supply chain describes the entire series of steps and the chain of custody that is able to securely move product all the way from a plant to our neighborhood supermarket or drug store. The legitimate supply chain has to plan and monitor all of the different pieces of the system in order to make sure that diversions or product degradation does not occur as a byproduct of mismanagement or theft. In countries where secure supply chains are more prevalent and robust, we are able to get medicines without fear or concern over the quality of the medicines that we procure. As a result, the work of the private sector had enabled supply chain security to be mostly invisible to us. For most of us, we rarely ever have to think about product movement until we realize that a product is temporarily unavailable at our local store.
But there are many ways that product could be mishandled or diverted. There is a whole world of experts who devote their energy to preventing pharmaceutical theft. On the flipside, there is also the threat that products that are not secure or safe are entering the supply chain. Both of these challenges are continuously safeguarded against in the day-to-day movement of medical products and other goods.
Another example of a possible threat is rooted in prevalence of online pharmacies. The Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies reports that over 98% of all online pharmacies sell products that are not safe or effective. As a result, purchasing a product on an unauthentic online pharmacy could result in unsafe products reaching your doorstep in the hands of an unsuspecting mail carrier.
Our organization often discusses the importance of the pharmaceutical supply chain, and the ways that experts along that supply chain can work more with public health, especially during emergencies. During a disaster, we want to make sure that our health systems and emergency response capabilities are prepared to provide options that allow a patient to securely procure the life-sustaining medicines that they need.
Understanding how we can shed light on the important work of the private sector to maintain secure supply chains and avoid unsafe medicines from reaching patients is important. In order to ensure the safety of our products we must remain vigilant of exactly where they are coming from and how they are being transported as well.