Senator addresses deadly meningitis outbreak

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) -- A deadly meningitis outbreak has reached 105 cases. Now U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling for action.

That outbreak has killed eight people. And officials have linked it to a steroid for back pain, produced by a pharmacy in Massachusetts.

Sen. Blumenthal is now calling for stronger government oversight of those so-called "compounding pharmacies."

The numbers are scary; 13,000 people may have been exposed to a contaminated epidural steroid connected to a rare strain of fungal meningitis.

"The reason for these deaths and injuries very simply is lack of proper FDA oversight and scrutiny," Sen. Blumenthal said.

Standing in front of Hartford Hospital, Sen. Blumenthal said he wants more government involvement to how these drugs are produced by what are known as "compounding pharmacies." In short, companies that make very specific drugs for a particular patient, drugs that may not be commercially available.

"The FDA failed in effective enforcement in this instance," Sen. Blumenthal said, "but the compounding pharmacies fall in a legal netherworld, that may be beyond the FDA's existing authority, although it says it has authority in this area."

"The type of regulation is not what it should be, any legislation that will assist making it safer for our patients is definitely needed," said Mike Rubino, Director of Pharmacy Services.

The steroids in question were made by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts and some were shipped to Connecticut, although not here at Hartford Hospital. Because the drugs are made with a valid prescription, Senator Blumenthal says there has been much less federal regulation.

"The growth of these businesses, compounding pharmacies or compounding centers, to the size they are now, is a relatively recent development. It may be a response to drug shortages," Sen. Blumenthal said.

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