Sharfstein reported headed to the FDA

City health official said to be choice for deputy

March 12, 2009|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,matthew.brown@baltsun.com

The White House reportedly has tapped Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein to be deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The Harvard-educated pediatrician would serve under Dr. Margaret A. "Peggy" Hamburg, the former New York City health chief who is to be nominated FDA commissioner, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Sharfstein, the White House and the FDA all declined to comment. Sharfstein told The Baltimore Sun in December that he loved his job and was "looking forward to another year of public health progress in the city." President Barack Obama has yet to announce new leadership for the FDA, the nation's primary food and drug watchdog.

Sharfstein, 39, emerged as a candidate for a leadership post after leading an assessment of the FDA for the Obama transition team. The agency, based in Silver Spring, has been in the spotlight for what critics have called an inadequate response to the salmonella outbreak that contaminated the peanut butter in hundreds of products.

Since becoming Baltimore health commissioner in 2005, Sharfstein has taken on the manufacturers of cold and cough medicines, convincing the FDA there was little evidence the drugs worked in children younger than 4. He also targeted lead, banning use of the toxic metal in candy, cosmetics and jewelry sold in the city.

He also has championed the use of buprenorphine as a treatment for heroin addicts. His department says heroin overdoses have declined, though critics say addicts using "bupe" may be no better off than those who are on methadone.

Sharfstein, who grew up in Montgomery County, has been involved in health policy since his training at Harvard Medical School. He was 24 when he published an article on political contributions by the American Medical Association in the New England Journal of Medicine. He volunteered to write and edit portions of the FDA's legal argument to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug. As a health policy adviser on the staff of the House committee on government reform, he worked on several pieces of legislation relating to the FDA, including a bill to require the agency to regulate nonprescription colored contact lenses not as cosmetics but as medical devices.

Sharfstein is the son of two doctors, and he married a third. His father, Dr. Steven Sharfstein, is president and chief executive officer of the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Towson. His wife, Dr. Yngvild Olsen, is chief medical officer of the Harford County Health Department.

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