The notice arrived at the home of Denise Schreck, a New Jersey woman who suffers from high blood pressure, last July. Valsartan, the blood pressure medication used by Schreck and millions of other Americans, was tainted, NBC News reports.
"URGENT PRODUCT RECALL," blared the words at the top of the letter from her pharmacy.
Since last summer, drug companies have announced a total of 45 recalls of generic lifesaving blood pressure medications. They include certain versions of valsartan and two other blood pressure drugs, losartan and irbesartan, as well as other blood pressure medications that contain the recalled drugs in their formulations. The raw ingredients were all traced to overseas manufacturing sites where drugs can be processed at a lower cost than at U.S. facilities.
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"Growing up, we had this saying, 'You get what you pay for,'" said Massoud Motamed, a former inspector with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "We have that belief for everything except pharmaceuticals. If we want to drive competition and drive the price down, it comes at the cost of quality."
For Motamed, the recalls tell only part of the story. He says a more systemic issue has largely gone unreported: FDA inspectors struggling to keep up with foreign drug manufacturers that may bury or hide problems in their production.