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Congressional panels to hold hearings on meningitis outbreak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two congressional oversight committees will hold hearings next week on the deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections and one panel has invited an official from the compounding pharmacy involved, aides said on Monday.

The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee expects to hear testimony from Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg on November 14.

The Republican-led panel has also invited Barry Cadden, co-owner of the New England Compounding Center, and James Coffey of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy, to appear.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Health did not say immediately whether Coffey would testify. A lawyer for Cadden was not immediately available for comment.

On November 15, the Democratic-controlled Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold its own hearing. It has invited a half-dozen witnesses including Hamburg, Cadden and health officials from Massachusetts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both committees have been investigating the outbreak that has sickened 419 people, killing 30, in 19 states, according to the CDC.

Lawmakers are trying to determine why NECC was allowed to continue operating after federal and state officials had identified problems at its facility including potential health risks posed by its production of injectable drugs.

The committees are also considering possible legislative action to enhance the FDA's oversight powers over compounding pharmacies, which are regulated mainly by state pharmacy boards.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Toni Clarke; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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