"When a doctor sticks a needle in you, you expect that the drugs it carries won't be tainted. But, possibly owing to a strange gray area in federal law, thousands of patients last October got injections for back pain that contained highly dangerous fungal meningitis, and dozens of them died. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are now seeking to fix the government's oversight of the obscure world of compounding pharmacies. The reforms they want are overdue.
Drug compounding used to be a corner-shop business, in which local pharmacists would mix a batch of drugs for specific patients with particular needs — and detailed prescriptions. That still happens. But over the years, compounding also turned into a much bigger industry. Some compounders now operate more like large-scale drug manufacturers than small-time pharmacists, which is how the tainted back-pain injections found their way from a Framingham, Mass. compounding center to all over the country last year. Yet these operations don't face the same scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as do big drugmakers, and state-level regulation is inconsistent."