Pharmaceutical bill shows bipartisanship

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Located on every gallon of milk at any grocery store in the state of Colorado is a bar code that contains the history of that particular gallon — what dairy farm it originated from, where it was pasteurized, and when it expires, among other things. If there is a contaminated batch or an outbreak of disease, officials can trace where this milk came from and quickly respond.

If you were to wander over a few more aisles at that same grocery store, to the pharmacy, you may be surprised to learn that no similar system of protection is in place. In fact, pharmacists cannot determine with any certainty where a prescription drug has been and whether it has been secured or safely stored on its way to the pharmacy.

Making matters worse, there is no uniform oversight of this supply chain, where prescription drugs pass through many different hands (manufacturers, distributors, dispensers, and re-packagers). All that exists is a patchwork of state regulations that vary enormously from state to state.

Compare that to airport security. If every major U.S. airport had different security processes, with some easier to circumvent than others, imagine which one a terrorist would prefer.

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. In 2009, nearly 130,000 vials of insulin where stolen, left unrefrigerated, and later found across the country in a national pharmacy chain after patients began reporting poor control of their insulin levels. Less than 2 percent of the insulin was ever recovered. And just a year ago, contaminated compounded drugs from a center in New England caused a meningitis outbreak, which killed 64 people.

All that’s about to change.

A few weeks ago, the most comprehensive drug safety bill in a quarter-century became law. The Drug Quality and Security Act would track prescription drugs from the time they are manufactured to the moment they are delivered to the drugstore. Like UPS or FedEx, but for prescription drugs instead of packages. And it won’t add a penny to our deficit.

These supply chain security provisions are the culmination of more than two years of bipartisan work we did with Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, in conjunction with a wide range of business and consumer groups. In a dysfunctional Congress that has deservedly earned its reputation for unprecedented levels of partisan gridlock, this bill passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously. It is a shining example of what can be achieved when we put our political differences aside and work to tackle tough problems.

Our common-sense proposal will help reduce the burden of a cumbersome, patchwork regulatory system, driving costs down, while also protecting families from counterfeit or tainted drugs. Now we’ll know who has handled the medicine we take and give to our kids and where and when they handled it.

If Colorado fruit growers can track a peach from the tree to the store, consumers should reasonably expect the same level of scrutiny for their prescription drugs. Pharmacists in Colorado fill more than 60 million prescriptions every single year, and for many of us, the medications we take can mean the difference between life and death. Families purchasing these drugs deserve to know they are safe. Now, with the bipartisan and pragmatic Drug Quality and Security Act, they can have that peace of mind.

Democrat Michael Bennet has represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate since 2009.

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