Hamburg, Sharfstein to head troubled FDA

The Obama administration has named two doctors to head up the much-criticized U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), individuals who are known for speaking out about public safety. Sources say Margaret Hamburg, a physician and former New York City health commissioner, was selected to run the agency with Joshua Sharfstein, of the Baltimore health commission, as her chief deputy, according to The Washington Post.

Sharfstein made headlines in 2007 when he convinced the FDA to restrict the use of over-the-counter children’s cough and cold medicines based on evidence they can cause serious health complications and even death in children.

If there is one government agency that needs overhauling, it is clearly the FDA. The agency has been under scrutiny for the past few years over contaminated food and drug products that have harmed and even killed Americans.

The agency is still feeling the repercussions from the tainted heparin scandal. Last year more than 80 Americans died and several more were made seriously ill after receiving injections of specific batches of the blood thinner that had been manufactured in a China plant. Those batches were found to have been contaminated with oversulfated chondroitin sulfate (OSCS), a contaminant that mimics heparin but can cause serious allergic reactions.

Following the revelation, the FDA admitted that it simply did not have manpower to properly inspect foreign food and drug manufacturing plants. Since then the FDA has taken measures to step up its inspections by opening field offices overseas. The first three offices opened late last year in China.

The FDA employs more than 11,000 employees and an annual operating budget of $2 billion.