The Senate's Track-and-Trace Drug Legislation

A Senate bill would have the FDA create a national system for tracking medicines electronically

1. The proliferation of counterfeit versions of drugs such as Lipitor and Avastin has lawmakers calling for the Food and Drug Administration to track and trace medicines electronically. Within 10 years, a medicine bottle would have a unique digital ID letting regulators follow its journey from manufacturer to pharmacy. To get federal licenses, wholesalers would have to do background checks on some employees and take their fingerprints.

2. The FDA likes the idea because it should help prevent tainted drugs from reaching consumers. Even though compliance would be costly, the drug industry prefers a national tracking system over a patchwork of state rules; California plans to implement its own version of track and trace in 2015 unless Washington acts. Yet the House and Senate disagree about how closely pills should be tracked. The House prefers to monitor bulk shipments instead of individual bottles.

3. The prospects for the Senate bill could also be complicated by the health committee’s recent decision to combine track-and-trace legislation with a bill that would give the FDA more oversight of the nation’s largest compounding pharmacies, which mix and sell medications and are licensed by states. Contamination at one such facility last fall caused 55 deaths. Republicans in the House are opposed to giving Washington more control of the pharmacies.

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