A winning choice

Our view: City's health commissioner has the tools to help reform the FDA

March 15, 2009

Baltimore's health commissioner, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, is headed to Washington to help reform the troubled Food and Drug Administration. That's a major plus for President Barack Obama and a great loss to Mayor Sheila Dixon, who found in Dr. Sharfstein a public health official as attuned to confronting the violence on the city's streets as fighting for the removal of lead-painted jewelry that could potentially sicken its children.

Dr. Sharfstein, who led the Obama administration's transition team for the FDA, will serve as chief deputy to Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner who would lead the agency. The pair will face serious challenges.

The FDA polices billions in food, drug and vitamin sales. It is responsible for monitoring a third of all imported goods, items as varied as cosmetics and consumer appliances. But its leadership has lagged and its budget has fallen far behind the growing scope of its responsibilities.

In Baltimore, Dr. Sharfstein has shown the kind of creative leadership that should shine at the FDA. He has aggressively pursued the hazard of lead, banning its use in eyeliner and in candy and jewelry sold in the city. He also took on the makers of cough and cold medicines, convincing the FDA that there was little proof that the drugs worked in children under age 4 and evidence that they could cause harm. His sharp mind, can-do attitude and affable manner should serve him well in Washington.

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