'60 Minutes' report explores fungal meningitis outbreak

NCPA criticizes regulatory response to outbreak, linked to New England Compounding Center

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A report on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday explored the aftermath of the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to the New England Compounding Center that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has sickened 720 people in 20 states and led to 48 deaths.

But "aftermath" might not necessarily be an appropriate word for the people who contracted the infection, for which there is no cure, but who must continue taking medication to treat it and suffer debilitating symptoms.

In the report, former employees of the NECC, which has since declared bankruptcy, talked about alleged means the company's managers used to evade the scrutiny of regulators as the pharmacy, in employees' view, had transitioned from a small operation to a manufacturing center and started ignoring safety and sanitary regulations in order to increase volume.

"This story appropriately shines a spotlight on the terrible patient suffering that occurred as a result of the irresponsible actions of NECC, and it reinforces the need to ensure proper oversight by health officials," National Community Pharmacists Association CEO B. Douglas Hoey said in a statement. "The accounts of former NECC employees that were reported in the story persuasively reinforce the views of NCPA and others that NECC was in fact evading necessary regulation in part by purporting to be a compounding pharmacy."

The report included an interview with Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg, who has called for increased federal authority over compounding pharmacies. But Hoey criticized the government's response.

"As congressional hearings and investigations have made clear, prior to the tragic meningitis outbreak, the FDA and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy had adequate authority to take action against NECC," Hoey said. "They could have acted to mitigate or potentially even prevent patient suffering. Sadly, they did not." 

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