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Massachusetts sanctions three more pharmacies, recasts oversight board

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts regulators on Thursday continued their crackdown on pharmacies in the wake of a deadly meningitis outbreak, announcing sanctions on three companies while recasting an oversight board that has been criticized for being too lax.

Massachusetts pharmacy operations have been under close scrutiny since New England Compounding Center, a specialty pharmacy, shipped thousands of vials of a tainted steroid to medical facilities throughout the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36 people have died and 541 have been injured from injections of methylprednisolone acetate, a drug typically used to ease back pain.

Massachusetts regulators said they ordered the temporary shutdown of one pharmacy, Oncomed Pharmaceuticals, on November 21, over concerns about how it stored chemotherapy drugs. It also ordered partial shutdowns of Pallimed Solutions, after it used improper components in preparing one drug, and the Whittier Pharmacist for violations in its sterile compounding operations.

All three pharmacies are working with regulators and are expected to reopen once the concerns are addressed, said David Kibbe, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Representatives of the three pharmacies could not be reached for immediate comment.

The DPH also announced three new members to fill seats on the Massachusetts pharmacy board. Unlike past appointments, the new board members are not necessarily pharmacists. The new picks are executives from a large healthcare system, a large health insurer and a rehabilitation and skilled nursing center.

"These respected health care professionals will use their experience to bring change to the Board of Pharmacy to enhance our oversight of this industry," Interim Commissioner Lauren Smith said in a press release. "We expect additional changes to the board after the Commission on Pharmacy Compounding issues its recommendations to Governor Deval Patrick at the end of the month."

This week, the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy held a public hearing on emergency regulations that were put in place by Patrick's administration to enhance monitoring and scrutiny of the compounding industry.

(Reporting by Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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