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GOP senator urges vote on drug compounding bill

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"The health committee worked on and the unanimously passed a bill to help prevent such a crisis from happening again, and the legislation should be called up for a vote as soon as possible."

The death toll from the fungal meningitis outbreak officially rose to 61 on Tuesday.

Nearly 750 others have been sickened by the infections, which were caused by tainted steroid shots produced last year by the now-shuttered New England Compounding Center (NECC).

Compounding pharmacies generally fit into one of two categories — traditional compounders, which produce custom medications on a prescription-by-prescription basis, and nontraditional compounders, which produce drugs in large quantities to ship across state lines.

Currently, traditional compounding pharmacies are regulated by state boards, while their nontraditional counterparts fall into a legal gray area that gives both state regulators and the FDA a role in their oversight.

The NECC, a nontraditional compounder, was cited several times for violating safety standards but did not improve conditions at its manufacturing site.

The resulting deaths and illnesses sparked debate in Congress about how to improve oversight of pharmacy compounding. Another recent outbreak, linked to a compounder in Tennessee, has drawn more attention to the issue.

Alexander's bill, introduced with HELP Committee Chairman Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinOrrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate Democrats are all talk when it comes to DC statehood The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Iowa) and Sens. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsPat Robertson recovering from stroke GOP senator relieved Trump didn't mention NAFTA Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Kan.) and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenOvernight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Pawlenty departing Wall Street group as campaign rumors swirl Bachmann won't run for Franken's Senate seat because she did not hear a 'call from God' MORE (D-Minn.), would empower the FDA to oversee nontraditional compounders while preserving state boards' role in regulating traditional compounding pharmacies.

The HELP Committee unanimously approved the legislation on May 22, but Senate leaders have not indicated when the bill might come to the floor.

House lawmakers are asking similar questions about compounding oversight, but in key committees, the parties disagree about giving the FDA new regulatory powers.