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Congress subpoenas co-owner of Framingham firm in meningitis probe

Congressional investigators Tuesday subpoenaed Barry Cadden, co-owner of the Framingham pharmacy blamed for the national meningitis outbreak, to answer questions about the crisis in Washington next week.

Cadden, who also was managing pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center, was ordered to appear before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. The subpoena was faxed to the pharmacy in Framingham.

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Cadden had indicated he would not appear voluntarily, a committee spokesperson said. His attorney and a spokesman for the pharmacy could not be reached for comment.

US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is scheduled to testify. The subcommittee also invited James Coffey, director of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy.

Top committee members issued a written statement saying they want more information about how the crisis unfolded. “Our committee has a long, bipartisan history of conducting drug safety oversight. Since the meningitis outbreak, we have been in close contact with the involved agencies and parties, but many unanswered questions remain. The NECC has a history of problems, some of which were documented in an FDA warning letter in 2006 -- we want to know what went wrong at this facility, the views and actions of its regulators, and what steps can be taken to ensure such an outbreak never happens again.”

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Massachusetts legislative leaders also have scheduled a public hearing on the same morning to scrutinize the Department of Public Health and its oversight of pharmacies. A spokesman for Governor Deval Patrick’s administration said that the state still is deciding which hearing, state or congressional, Massachusetts officials, including Coffey, will attend.

The outbreak has been linked to contaminated steroid injections made by New England Compounding. So far, it has sickened 419 people and killed 30, most of whom were infected with a rare type of fungal meningitis, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday published an article online by public health officials in Tennessee detailing the impact the outbreak has had on their hard-hit state. The authors said 1,009 patients received injections near the spine with methylprednisolone acetate from one or more of the three contaminated lots recalled by New England Compounding. As of Oct. 19, 66 of these patients, or 7 percent, were confirmed cases. Women were more likely to become infected than men, as were patients who received older vials of the steroid, presumably because the fungus had more time to grow.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.
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