Congressmen Call on GAO to Probe Industry Associated With Meningitis Outbreak

Members of the House Oversight Committee urge the GAO to look into "pharmacy compounding."

Jill Bloser, 43, holds a photo of her mother from a memorial service in Howell, Mich., Oct. 9, 2012. George Cary, left, whose wife's death was linked to the national outbreak of fungal meningitis said that he, too, was treated with steroids that may have been contaminated.
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Two of the top members of the House Oversight Committee have requested that the Government Accountability Office investigate the "pharmacy compounding" industry which has been associated with the deadly meningitis outbreak that, in recent weeks, has killed at least 23 people and sickened 280 more.

The outbreak has been traced back to the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center, a company that mixes and combines medicines to create customized dosages and products for patients. Many of the 300 people affected by the outbreak were given steroid injections used for back or joint pain. The outbreak has been traced to contaminated methylprednisolone acetate steroid injections -- as many as 14,000 patients received the contaminated shots in 23 states.

Tuesday, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.), a ranking member on the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, called on the GAO to "update its work on pharmacy compounding."

[RELATED: Meningitis Outbreak Toll Now 23 Dead, 284 Sickened]

"In light of these tragic deaths, we need to know how many other companies are engaged in similar activity and whether they may be falling through the cracks between state and federal regulating agencies," Tierney said in a statement. "If these cases are due to a lack of clarity in state or federal rules, we must ensure that reforms are made immediately."

According to the letter, Tierney and Cummings want the GAO to review the size and influence of the compounding industry, review state laws regarding pharmacy compounders, and determine whether any loopholes exist between state and federal regulations.

In the past, drug compounders have been linked to Chinese drug manufacturers who aren't registered with the FDA, and several compounders have been found to be selling illegal anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

According to the congressmen, the new request is in addition to an ongoing probe into the New England Compounding Center currently being conducted by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.