For those who doubt the need for government regulation, people are dying around the country in part because of a lack of it. A congressional report released Monday criticized state boards for failing to regulate compounding pharmacies adequately.
Those pharmacies include the company in Massachusetts that has been identified as the culprit in the deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis. At least 29 people have died and hundreds of others have been infected from batches of contaminated steroid used in injections for back and joint pain. The tainted steroid was traced to the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.
Compounding pharmacies are unaccountably outside the reach of the federal Food and Drug Administration. Instead, they are overseen – or are supposed to be overseen – by state boards of pharmacy, and they often lack the resources to do the job.
The congressional report, issued by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., found that only six states had records of taking enforcement actions against compounding pharmacies, which mix or alter ingredients to make custom medications. In the past 20 years, that industry has expanded to include large compounders that operate like drug manufacturers.
Since the meningitis outbreak – the worst public health crisis in recent U.S. history – consumer advocates, members of Congress and even some pharmacy professionals are calling for more authority for the FDA. Indeed, the FDA has sought greater oversight, but those efforts have been thwarted by legal challenges from the industry.
Given the crisis of this avoidable outbreak of meningitis and the findings in Markey’s report, it is obvious that something has to be done. Investing further authority in states that are already not doing the job isn’t the answer. Washington needs to use this moment to overcome industry objections and craft enforceable regulations that will protect the public without stifling the industry.
Whether Washington will do that is questionable. The House of Representatives is infested with members who believe not simply that government is too intrusive, but that it is the enemy of the American people.
These are the same economic radicals who objected to, and who would repeal, the banking reforms that were instituted after that industry lit the fuse to the worst economic recession in 80 years, a catastrophe that has put millions out of work and, in some cases, out of their homes.
In the case of the New England Compounding Center, government’s failure to regulate appears to have caused misery that radiates far beyond the dead and injured.
Given those plain and shocking facts, even this Congress, as blind as it is to others’ suffering, must see the need to act. Mustn’t it?