Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner writes about his experience reporting on a Worldfocus signature story on the contamination of U.S. drugs: Contaminated drug imports threaten Americans.
As usual, after you do all the reporting and analysis, the human dimensions of a news story bring it all home.
Producer Ara Ayer and I interviewed a young couple, Alex and Ann Oryschak, for a number of hours in November 2008. Their infant son, Julien, was a sick little boy — but they think that the blood thinner heparin may have contributed to his death. He was eight months old.
We spoke to the Oryschaks on the one-year anniversary of Julien’s death on Nov. 19, 2007. The Oryschaks were willing to speak about this in hopes that their pain might lead to changes in the regulation of drugs. Perhaps, Ann Oryschak told me, another mother would not have to see her child suffer and die in the same way.
Perhaps the most surprising fact that emerged in our three months of reporting on contaminated heparin ingredients from China: The U.S. government has little ability to know whether the drugs we are taking are safe or not.
The Food and Drug Administration just doesn’t know how many people died as a result of the heparin problem. The FDA doesn’t have the staff to inspect more than a handful of the thousands of laboratories in China, India and other parts of the world.
The U.S. government doesn’t require doctors and hospitals to provide immediate information on unusual occurrences leading to injury and death. And medical professionals are often too busy and too worried about lawsuits to file such reports. We may not know about more than about 1 percent of the cases of people harmed or even killed by adulterated heparin.
As a result, doctors must take it on faith that the medicines they are prescribing are exactly what they are supposed to be. One physician I spoke to, Dr. Frederick Rickles, a hematologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said that the heparin case is not isolated.
“We see on a regular basis evidence for manufacturing problems throughout the industry and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. It occurs with automobiles, it occurs with jet planes, why wouldn’t it occur with the production of…complex medications.”
– Peter Eisner