DENVER (CBS4) – One of Colorado’s U.S. senators is behind a sweeping new drug safety law — the first in decades. It allows the government to track prescription drugs the same way companies like FedEx track packages.
CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd talked with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who calls it a matter of national security.
The new law comes a year after a contaminated steroid drug caused a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people. It comes five years after a contaminated blood thinner killed 81 people. And 75 years after Congress passed the law that today governs pharmaceuticals.
“This is long overdue, it’s time to fix it,” Bennet said.
Bennet is one of the lead sponsors of the law that for the first time gives the Food and Drug Administration power to police compounding facilities that mass produce drugs. It also sets up a national system for tracking pharmaceuticals across the supply chain with serial numbers and an electronic tracking system.
“In other walks of our life that is just routine today. This barcode technology is 1970s technology,” Bennet said. “Every convenience store in Colorado has this technology, but not every hospital has this technology.”
Denver Health Medical Center is one of the few that does. It has its own compounding facility and a separate barcode for every pill.
“When we do select a compounding pharmacy because need to use a compounding pharmacy, we personally send somebody from Denver Health to visit that site to do our own inspection,” said Tom Kirschling, Denver Health Pharmacist.
But many pharmacies and hospitals don’t.
Bennet says more is known about a gallon of milk in a convenience store than a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. He says 80 percent of drug ingredients are manufactured in other countries, and once they enter the U.S. may be handled by hundreds of people and repackaged multiple times.
“And then by the time it gets to the pharmacy people don’t know where it came from,” he said.
The law is 10 years in the making and the first major piece of legislation to come out of Congress in some time.
“It passed unanimously … yes … it took a lot work to get there, but ultimately it did,” Bennet said.
Bennet says the new law also addresses corrupt wholesalers who steal and stockpile drugs to create artificial shortages and then sell them at inflated prices.