Congressional hearings expose need for oversight changes

WASHINGTON (WXYZ) - It was two days of often intense questioning by lawmakers in both the House and Senate regarding the deadly fungal meningitis outbreak.

Lawmakers wanted to get to the bottom of what led to the meningitis outbreak and what can be done to prevent it from ever happening again.

Inaction was exposed by both the Massachusetts Pharmacy Board and the FDA despite known problems over the course of a decade. One Senator called it a "catastrophic failure."

The New England Compounding Center is at the center of the outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people around the country and killed 32.

It's owner, Barry Cadden wouldn't answer questions from Action News and he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in the house hearing, not providing any information. He didn't show up for Thursday's Senate hearings.

It became clear to lawmakers that the NECC was illegally operating more like a manufacturer than a compounder, without proper oversight.

During the Senate hearing, a lobbyist for the compounding industry said if current laws were enforced, this tragedy could have been prevented.

This outbreak has hit Michigan especially hard. The CDC's latest numbers show 148 people sickened with fungal meningitis in our state, and eight have died, including Penny LaPerriere's husband Lyn.

Preventing heartache like hers is what these hearings were all about.

"No one should have to suffer like my husband suffered," said Penny.

Now, the legislative work begins. Changes to the law appear to have bipartisan support. What shape it will take we don't know yet. The FDA really wants their powers clarified when it comes to large compounding pharmacies, but seeing that this is a lame duck session of Congress, it's likely any possible Congressional action won't happen until after the new Congress is sworn in.

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