Senator calls for criminal probe of meningitis outbreak

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The New England Compounding Center (NECC) recalled all of its products and surrendered its state license after its steroid injections were tied to the outbreak.

The Framingham, Mass.-based pharmacy reprocesses drugs on a large scale to fit patients' needs, and sent about 17,700 potentially tainted vials of the steroid to 23 states, according to reports. Those shots are suspected to have sickened 170 people so far.

The spate of illnesses has caused Democrats on Capitol Hill to criticize compounding pharmacies, which are not obligated to follow certain federal guidelines that apply to drug makers.

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) accused the NECC of "masquerading as a compounding pharmacy so it could escape federal regulation when it was actually operating as a drug manufacturer."

"This company may have disregarded federal guidelines, and we need to know from [regulators] whether the company misled regulatory authorities and if sanctions against the company are available or warranted," said Markey, whose district includes the NECC.

The Massachusetts Democrat has introduced a bill to strengthen oversight of compounding pharmacies, in part by requiring them to follow certain minimum safety standards.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has also introduced a bill to enable greater oversight.

"I believe this outbreak and corresponding recall make clear that strong Federal authority is needed over these large scale compounding pharmacies to ensure that patients receive safe and effective drugs," DeLauro wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week.

Leaders with the House Energy and Commerce Committee have also requested a bipartisan briefing with the NECC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control.

In a letter, the lawmakers told the NECC that the briefing must occur before Oct. 19.