Targeting the abortion pill

I posted earlier this week about the pros and cons of medical abortion. And right on the heels of that discussion, the New York Times reports that Shanghai Hualian, the Chinese drug company that manufactures mifepristone pills (aka RU-486) used in the U.S., has been accused of producing tainted drugs. Now, to be clear, all tainted drugs have come from a different plant from the one where U.S.-bound mifepristone is made. But that didn’t stop the Times from writing the screaming headline:

Tainted Drugs Tied to Maker of Abortion Pill

Now, I absolutely agreed that the plants that do manufacture mifepristone — and any other drugs used in the U.S. — should be inspected immediately. Yes, I believe we need to verify the safety of this drug. But does anyone else find it suspicious that the FDA refused to disclose whether any other U.S. pharmaceuticals are produced by that company? That they only named mifepristone?

Last week, The New York Times asked the F.D.A. whether the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group exported to the United States any drugs or pharmaceutical ingredients other than the abortion pill. But after repeated requests, the agency declined to provide that information; it did not cite a reason.
On at least two occasions in 2002, Shanghai Hualian had shipments of drugs stopped at the United States border, F.D.A. records show. One shipment was an unapproved antibiotic and the other a diuretic that had “false or misleading labeling.� Records also show that another unit of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group has filed papers declaring its intention to sell at least five active pharmaceutical ingredients to manufacturers for sale in the United States.

So to summarize, mifepristone is very likely not the only U.S. drug that could be tainted. And yet the FDA is only talking about “the abortion pill”. What, I wonder, could be their political motivation? I’m really stumped by that one…
Another big aspect of this story is that we’re learning, for the first time, the name of the company that manufactures mifepristone.

Because of opposition from the anti-abortion movement, the F.D.A. has never publicly identified the maker of the abortion pill for the American market. The pill was first manufactured in France, and since its approval by the F.D.A. in 2000 it has been distributed in the United States by Danco Laboratories. Danco, which does not list a street address on its Web site, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

And this is where I get really, really upset at anti-choicers. I believe doctors and patients should have broad access to information about the drugs they prescribe/take, and the makers of those drugs. Because of the antis, that information about mifepristone has never been accessible.
That said, knowing how the antichoice movement works, I fully understand why this information has been kept under wraps until now. And the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that the FDA throwing the antichoicers a bone by leaking this information — issuing a not-so-subtle warning about mifepristone, without issuing the same warning about other drugs made by that same manufacturer. It’s bullshit.

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15 Comments

  1. El Jay
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    It’s total bullshit. And the Times is buying into it. The story is that cancer patients in China died as a result of tainted leukemia drugs. And instead, they headline it as “Tainted Drugs Tied to Maker of Abortion Pill.” While this info should be available to the public, it should be presented along with the facts: the abortion pill is produced at a different facility that has repeatedly passed US FDA inspection. By using the headline they do, the Times is encouraging readers to approach the story with hysteria and an already drawn conclusion. The press is supposed to investigate and present the facts so you can make your own goddamned decision. Not make it for you.

  2. Posted January 31, 2008 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence — but since this Administration has broken all prior records for both malice and incompetence, I’m at a loss this time.
    we’re no longer talking about Worst President Ever anymore. He’s now in competition with Hitler and Caligula.

  3. Posted January 31, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence — but since this Administration has broken all prior records for both malice and incompetence, I’m at a loss this time.
    we’re no longer talking about Worst President Ever anymore. He’s now in competition with Hitler and Caligula.

  4. ms sailaway
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    AFAIK, that Danco Laboratories distributes mifepristone is public information. If you go to http://www.earlyoptionpill.com/, you’ll see their logo at the bottom of the page.
    What was not public information was the name and location of this lab in China that makes it for Danco to distribute. Just wanted to clarify before folks start googling Danco to try and find out where their lab is :)

  5. MyBabyPanda
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Ms Sailaway – if you try to google Danco Laboratories, all you come up is the mifepristone website. Wikipedia says that Danco was incorporated in the Caymen Islands and the only drug they distribute is Mifeprex. Sounds pretty shady to me and like somewhat of a fake company set up to avoid violent anti-choicers.
    I’m interested that others read the story this way. I read it more like, WTF the FDA and nobody cares about the quality control of the drugs that women put into their bodies? Especially if the women are sluts who want to kill their babies. I mean, the Chinese manufacturer apparently has such poor quality control standards Pfizer decided a couple of years ago not to use them as an ingredient supplier. So I totally read this as women getting the short end of the stick and having to take pills from a poorly regulated Chinese company if they want a medical abortion, not the Times trying to scare people into not taking it.
    I wonder what other ingredients, if any, this Lab manufactures for use in American patients.

  6. Ann
    Posted January 31, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    The creation of Danco Labs is a really fascinating tale. Basically, when feminists were working to bring mifepristone to the U.S., they could not find a U.S. manufacturer to agree to produce the drug, for fear of antichoice retribution. Eventually they created companies to secure the license. NAF has a great summary here.

  7. LPOP
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I’m with the first commenter. The LEAST interesting thing about the story was the connection to mifepristone. Interesting, that take on it. Except, possibly to demonstrate how egocentric we can be– dozens of cancer patients, some of the most defenseless people around, are paralyzed because of a deadly lack of oversight by a pharmaceutical company, and our take is– hey, that company might supply an ingredient of something we have here– ok so we should be concerned about our own citizens, but this is terribly myopic. It piss me off that we’ve had to be so secretive about where the ingredients come from that it makes medical abortion more potentially much more dangerous than it needs to be.
    On another note, it ought to show us a picture of what extreme deregulation will do– we’re just a few years away from allowing something like this to happen in the U.S. Just a few more years with the republicans at the helm allowing the free market to run itself— because no one would allow hundreds of people to be poisoned just to make a quick buck, right?? Wrong.

  8. LPOP
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    I’m with the first commenter. The LEAST interesting thing about the story was the connection to mifepristone. Interesting, that take on it. Except, possibly to demonstrate how egocentric we can be– dozens of cancer patients, some of the most defenseless people around, are paralyzed because of a deadly lack of oversight by a pharmaceutical company, and our take is– hey, that company might supply an ingredient of something we have here– ok so we should be concerned about our own citizens, but this is terribly myopic. It piss me off that we’ve had to be so secretive about where the ingredients come from that it makes medical abortion more potentially much more dangerous than it needs to be.
    On another note, it ought to show us a picture of what extreme deregulation will do– we’re just a few years away from allowing something like this to happen in the U.S. Just a few more years with the republicans at the helm allowing the free market to run itself— because no one would allow hundreds of people to be poisoned just to make a quick buck, right?? Wrong.

  9. connaissance
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Isn’t this story old? I wrote about media portrayals of the abortion pill and fear for my freshman comp class 2 years ago. And this was one of the stories I talked about. So I can only figure that something new must have come out with the allegation (for the leukemia medicine) and they’re taking the opportunity to once AGAIN remind us that its connected to mifepristone…I can’t really imagine two separate companies are being talked about here. Ridiculous.

  10. Olivia
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    The connection to mifepristone is worth mentioning in the body of the article, but the headline was misleading. It should have said somthing like “Chinese drug makers tide to tainted cancer meds”

  11. theorajones
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I must agree here.
    There’s a huge crisis of quality with imported manufactured products, even drugs. Which, incidentally, puts a total lie to the Bush Administration’s opposition to letting people import cheap Canadian drugs because of “quality” concerns. Frankly, that might have been an interesting secondary angle to this story.
    But this additional product should have gotten a mention in the 11th graph, along with any other medications they were producing at other plants. People definitely have a right to know if a shady company is making their pills, so they can decide for themselves if they think it’s safe to keep using them. But it’s ridiculous and confusing to put this in the lede, and obviously it only happened because of ooh! Squicky abortion!
    I mean, as someone who like millions of others is not having an abortion but is using cold medicine this week, I’m wondering–do these guys make my cold medicine? Or my vitamins? I think that affects a lot more people, and maybe it should have been MENTIONED instead of so much overblown focus on non-issues with the product that is being used only by a tiny number of consumers any given day?
    Grrr….

  12. Posted February 2, 2008 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Yah that headline totally annoyed me too.

  13. adaerid
    Posted February 2, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    we’re no longer talking about Worst President Ever anymore. He’s now in competition with Hitler and Caligula.
    I think he’s catching up to Hitler; he DOES advocate killing millions of people overseas and oppressing millions in the US, little by little.
    If it’s about cancer pills, why would they connect it to the abortion pill, making the mifepristone the main “bad guy”? They should have blamed the manufacturer in my opinion, because it’s only that drug company that they reported.

  14. Bogo
    Posted February 3, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    This is where banging on your congress critters helps. Ask them to tell the FDA to release the information on which other drugs are produced by Shanghai Hualian and any of the other related Chinese state owned companies produce. Remember to keep it polite and to the point. Hand written works the best, but printed and signed also works. Use your own words as then it won’t just get dumped into a form letter pile. Here is a nice site for figuring who your critters are.
    As a side note we need to get the FDA plant number for the plant in question. All medicines distributeed in the USA must have the manufacturing plant number on them for trace back purposes. With that number you can at least check the meds you have to see if they match.

  15. Posted March 29, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

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