With reports of more than 400 patients in the United States suffering serious complications after receiving the blood-thinner heparin, American investigators are trying to determine whether the raw material for the drug, made from pig intestines, became contaminated on the journey that begins in the slaughterhouses of China.Welcome to the new world order.
The process of making heparin begins with the intestines of slaughtered pigs, from which mucous membrane is collected and cooked, eventually producing a dry substance known as crude heparin. Major heparin producers like S.P.L. take that substance, refine it and sell it to companies like Baxter that make the final product, which is widely used in cardiovascular surgery and dialysis.
In a village called Xinwangzhuang, nearly every house along a narrow street doubles as a tiny heparin operation, where teams of four to eight women wearing aprons and white boots wash, splice, separate and process pig intestines into sausage casings and crude heparin.
The floors had large puddles and drainage channels; the workshops were dilapidated and unheated; and steam from the production process fogged up the windows and soaked the walls. There were large ovens to cook ingredients and halls lined with barrels to store enzymes, resins, intestines and wastewater.
“This is our family-style workshop,” said Zhu Jinlan, the owner of one heparin operation, who stopped sorting pig intestines and invited visitors to a back room, where she lives with her husband and child. “We’ve been doing this about 10 years.”
For those of you who are old enough, ask yourself if back in the 70's you ever......ever would have accepted that the drugs given to you would have started their journey to your veins in the basement of some random house in a third world country?
Of course you wouldn't have. Because back then we had an FDA that was given the resources it needed to do its job. Because back then we hadn't bent over and taken it without lube from the corporations who wanted to take down the barriers to trade but keep up the barriers to labor. Because back then it was still possible for someone to tell the corporations no.
The Chinese heparin market has become increasingly unsettled over the last year, as pig disease has swept through the country, depleting stocks, leading some farmers to sell sick pigs into the market and forcing heparin producers to scramble for new sources of raw material. Traders and industry experts say even big companies have been turning more often to the small village workshops, which are unregulated and often unsanitary.
The problems involving heparin have again focused attention on the quality of products from China and the gaps in regulation by both the Chinese and United States governments. S.P.L.’s plant in Changzhou was certified by American officials to export to the United States even though neither government had inspected it. The plant has been exporting heparin to Baxter since 2004.
I guarantee you whatever plants were supplying heparin in the days of Jimmy Carter had been inspected. But then you started putting people in charge of the government who said that government can't work, so really, are you surprised that it stopped working? If you wanted the government to ensure a safe heparin supply, it would. Just like it ensures the delivery of bullets and bombs like no other government in the world. It's doing what you want it to do.
Think about what you've done the next time you're in the hospital and the nurse starts to inject something into your IV bag. Think about the intestines of the sick pig getting cooked in someone's garage.
Enjoy your tax cut.