Al Patterson, PharmD, is director of Pharmacy at Boston Children’s Hospital. Read his February 13, 2012 testimony before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health.
More than 80 percent of the United States supply of heparin, a commonly used blood thinner, originates from pigs reared in farm co-ops in China. Farmers scrape mucus from the intestines and send it to central processing facilities, where heparin is extracted and purified before being sold to U.S. pharmaceutical companies.
But in 2007, blue-ear pig disease, causing a respiratory syndrome, became endemic in Asia—leading to a shortage of pigs and a shortage of heparin. In order to preserve their market share, producers began creating fraudulent substitutes, including one that behaved chemically like heparin, but was actually a manmade compound known as oversulfated chondroitin sulfate (OSCS) derived from pig, sheep or cow cartilage.