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After drug deaths, Massachusetts lawmakers seek to curb compounding pharmacies

By Elizabeth Barber

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts lawmakers have passed a bill this week to rein in compounding pharmacies after tainted drugs produced by a local company were implicated in killing 64 people across the country and sickening hundreds more.

Governor Deval Patrick’s office said on Thursday he is reviewing the proposed legislation.

The new bill ramps up the state’s oversight of compounding pharmacies, granting greater powers to the state board overseeing such companies and tightening the standards to which the pharmacies must adhere.

"This legislation clearly defines the boundaries of safe and appropriate compounding pharmacies and applies strict standards to all pharmacies producing or shipping compounding drugs in Massachusetts,” said House Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, in a statement.

In October 2012, authorities shut down New England Compounding Center, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, about 20 miles west of Boston, after tracing back to the pharmacy the worst outbreak of fungal meningitis in U.S. history.

Bankruptcy lawyers for the defunct pharmacy reached a settlement last month to pay out $100 million to victims, families and creditors.

In response to the episode, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law last year allowing, but not requiring, large compounding pharmacies to register with the FDA and adhere to federal regulations and standards. 

Under the Massachusetts legislation, the state's Board of Registration in Pharmacy will be required to participate in national reporting systems on pharmacies. It will also be authorized to conduct unannounced inspections of pharmacies that hold the companies accountable to newly raised standards.

The bill also directs the state’s Department of Public Health to develop a website where the public can search for data on compounding pharmacies, as well as increases the pharmacies’ obligations to provide more information about their products to consumers.

(Editing by Edith Honan and Gunna Dickson)

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