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Specialty pharmacies scrutinized

Meningitis cases in fall spur states

States are cracking down on specialty pharmacies, conducting surprise inspections and weighing proposals to require companies to obtain special permits to mix sterile drugs. The moves are in response to last fall’s deadly meningitis outbreak, which was linked to tainted steroid shots made by a Massachusetts pharmacy.

About a dozen states, including Maryland and Virginia, are considering legislation that would require stricter licensing requirements for specialty pharmacies, known as compounders.

Compounding pharmacies traditionally alter or mix drugs to meet a patient’s specific need. But in recent decades, some compounders, spurred in part by drug shortages, have begun producing large volumes of some of the highest-risk drugs, often without individual prescriptions. These medications often are shipped across state lines to hospitals and clinics, including veterinary clinics.

The now-shuttered Massachusetts company, New England Compounding Center, shipped more than 17,000 vials of steroid shots to 23 states. The meningitis outbreak has so far killed 50 people and sickened 722.

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