Workers hailed as heroes fear closure of antibiotic company would create national security threat

ATLANTA — A Tennessee facility that makes lifesaving medication filed for bankruptcy last year and almost shut down for good.

A group of workers at US Antibiotics worked weeks, then months without pay at the Bristol plant after the company filed bankruptcy.

They told Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston they needed to keep the lights on and run critical lab tests to keep the antibiotic they produce, amoxicillin, on pharmacy shelves.

“If one of our bottles could stay in the market and go to a patient and be the more perfect bottle to save that person, I wanted it to stay in the field,” explained US Antibiotics chemist Linda Robbins.

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Amoxicillin treats a variety of bacterial infections and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors wrote more than 54 million prescriptions for the drug in.

US Antibiotics said they are the sole licensed American maker of penicillin-based amoxicillin.

“The generics kind of moved out of the country, the effort is in other nations so you’re fighting very low-cost labor,” Robbins said.

Channel 2 Action News Learned through congressional testimony that China produces about 90% of the chemical ingredients for antibiotics.

China’s lower labor costs and weaker regulations make it difficult for the U.S. to compete. Robbins said she believes keeping the lights on at US Antibiotics was a matter of national security.

“We would let the bills get paid before we would take pay so that we could keep going to try and have hope to try and save this facility,” Robbins said.

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The plant seemed doomed until a trustee involved in the bankruptcy called the founder and CEO of Alpharetta-based Jackson Healthcare and shared the story of the plant workers.

Rick Jackson agreed to travel to Bristol to tour the plant and meet the workers.

“I was like I don’t think that I could live with myself knowing that I could have done something to save the last place in the United States that makes a critical antibiotic,” Jackson said.

He admitted it’s not a savvy investment on paper but an important one.

“I think I would rather fail at trying to make this happen because of how important it is than to succeed at something that doesn’t really matter.”

Now Jackson Healthcare hopes to create a movement to educate Americans about where critical medications they rely on are made and bring pharmaceutical productions back to the U.S.

“We’re attempting to do something that no one in the country is doing. We’re attempting to undo decades of manufacturing shipping overseas,” explained Jackson Healthcare President Shane Jackson. “We have to convince people throughout the healthcare enterprise, throughout the healthcare ecosystem, that it’s in their best interest …to source and purchase these lifesaving medications from here in the United States.”

It’s a mission Rick Jackson said would have been lost if it weren’t for the heroic workers at US Antibiotics.

“The fact that they cared enough about something like that when there were so many other things to worry about was just inspiring to me and I just think they’re American heroes.”

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