Amid meningitis outbreak, US Congress urged to expand FDA oversight

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The Obama administration onWednesday urged Congress to give the Food and DrugAdministration greater authority to regulate compounded drugs ofthe kind linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak spanning 10 U.S.states.

"This outbreak began at a compounding pharmacy and the FDAhas very limited authority over what these facilities produce,"said an official from the U.S. Department of Health and HumanServices (HHS), who spoke on condition of anonymity because ofongoing public health investigations.

"We urge Congress to give FDA the authority it needs toassure these kinds of outbreaks do not happen again," theofficial told Reuters.

The administration official's remarks added to pressure forcongressional action as the number of fungal meningitis caseslinked to contaminated spinal injections rose. Health officialssaid on Wednesday a total of 12 people have died and 137 peoplehave been stricken with the rare infection.

Staff from two main committees that oversee health issues inthe Senate and House of Representatives were expected to receivebriefings on Thursday from FDA and Centers for Disease Controland Prevention staff, a prelude to considering legislativeaction.

HHS oversees the FDA, which is responsible for ensuring thesafety and efficacy of drugs produced by pharmaceuticalmanufacturers. But it is less clear how much authority theagency has over pharmacies that alter or mix drug ingredients tomeet the special needs of doctors and their patients through apractice known as compounding.

Two House Democrats have announced plans to introduce newlegislation to strengthen FDA oversight and protect consumers.Democrats in the House and Senate have also called forcongressional investigations and hearings.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

((david.morgan@thomsonreuters.com)(+1)(202)(898 8326)())