The FDA plans to increase misdemeanor prosecutions of industry execs as it looks to refocus its Office of Criminal Investigations (see this letter to the Senate Finance committee). The move comes in response to a new report from the General Accountability Office that the OCI suffers from lax oversight, despite increased in funding and staffing over the past decade. In fact, the FDA hasn’t reviewed most OCI offices in more than three years. The OCI investigates counterfeit drugs and other bad stuff, as well as misconduct by FDA employees.

The GAO concluded the FDA “has relied largely on the OCI director to determine which aspects of OCI’s operations and investigations are made known to FDA’s top management.” The GAO found assessments of six OCI field offices aren’t being done on a timely basis. Of 24 total office assessments that should have been completed by August 2009, only 7, or about 30 percent, were completed and one office hadn’t been assessed in over 10 years.

In addition, the FDA lacks performance measures that could enhance oversight by allowing it to assess OCI’s overall success. A few more facts: the OCI has a 230-person operation with more than $41 million in funding. In 2008, the group’s investigations led to more than 400 convictions. The OCI budget rose 73 percent between 1999 and 2008 to $41 million, and the number of employees increased by about 40 percent.

The GAO study, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, was requested by Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the US Senate Finance, who has been probing drug safety issues, among other things. A report on GlaxoSmithKline’s Avandia noted that several drugmakers – Pfizer, Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb – have recently paid large criminal fines totaling $7 billion. Among the infractions – off-label promotion.


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