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Senate questions pharmacy boards after outbreak

Associated Press Modified: November 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm •  Published: November 19, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate committee investigating the deadly outbreak of meningitis wants to know how regulators in all 50 states oversee specialty pharmacies like the one that triggered the illness.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions sent letters Monday to all 50 state boards of pharmacy, seeking details about their oversight of compounding pharmacies.

Contaminated injections from the New England Compounding Center have been blamed for an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed 34 people and sickened 490.

Compounding pharmacies, which mix customized medications based on doctors' instructions, are traditionally overseen by state pharmacy boards. But larger compounders like the NECC have emerged in the last two decades, mass-producing thousands of vials of drugs that are often shipped nationwide. That trend has prompted calls for more federal oversight by the Food and Drug Administration.

The NECC shipped more than 17,600 doses of a pain injection to 23 states. Public health officials later identified fungal contamination in two of the lots.

An investigative report issued by the Senate last week concluded that both state and federal regulators missed multiple opportunities to shut down NECC over more than a decade of problematic operations.

"Bureaucratic inertia appears to be what allowed a bad actor to repeatedly risk public health," the report states.

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