Senate holds fungal meningitis hearing

A recently held Senate committee hearing on the fungal meningitis outbreak covered the same territory as a House hearing, but also included the views of compounding pharmacy interest groups.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee sought to determine how the outbreak occurred and why regulations were unable to prevent contaminated steroid injections from reaching patients, according to CIDRAP News.

In preparation for the hearing, the committee requested documents from the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center, the pharmacy that prepared the contaminated injections, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy.

NECC's president and co-owner Barry Cadden was asked to appear but did not. He appeared at the recent House hearing under subpoena, but refused to testify, citing the fifth amendment.

The Senate hearing was substantially less volatile than the House hearing, but federal and state regulators were asked similarly difficult questions.

Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) noted that many of the committee members have tried to examine issues related to compounding pharmacies over the past several years. He said, despite the outbreak, he opposes any effort to ban the controversial businesses because they fill an important niche, according to CIDRAP News.

"However, the recent and repeated loss of life has reiterated the need for appropriate measures to be put in place to ensure that bad actors can no longer take advantage of patients," Roberts said, CIDRAP News reports. "Patients have a right to know when they are receiving a product that is not FDA-approved and the risk that may come with using it."

David Miller, the CEO of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists testified that he felt the NECC hid behind its pharmacy license to act as an illegal drug manufacturer.

"They violated trust and tainted the reputation of pharmacists in every practice setting," he said, CIDRAP News reports. "As an organization, we're committed to make sure this never happens again."