On January 16 of this year, this blog published a post about an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed 39 people and infected 650 more. Inspectors have traced this event, which has hit the states of Michigan and Tennessee particularly hard, to a pharmaceutical compounding center in Massachusetts that was distributing tainted drugs across the country. States as far away as Idaho, Nevada and California have reported cases of meningitis, all of which can be linked back to the New England Compounding Center (NECC). Fungal meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. In this illness, the meninges are tainted when invasive fungus begins to grow and multiply in the cerebrospinal fluid.
As we reported last month, the tainted drug in question is a pain reliever often administered to patients who experience chronic back pain. It is called methylprednisone acetate and theTimes reports that about five million take this drug in a given year. It is generally administered with an injection directly into the cerebrospinal fluid in the spinal canal (called an epidural) by anesthesiologists at pain management practices.
The New York Times has a rolling story about the outbreak, but its last report came on January 4. Since that time, according to AboutLawsuits.com, the state has conducted a series of unannounced inspections of about 40 similar businesses, each of which is required to maintain a sterile workplace environment. “The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has ordered 11 compounding pharmacies to partially or completely shut down and has issued citation to 21 others following a wave of surprise inspections,” the site reads.
State legislators are also working to push further regulation and oversight laws through, including ones that will make compounding pharmacies report volume and distribution of all products to the state. Since our last story on the meningitis scare, investigators have assessed the total number of tainted shots to be about 17,000. This figure, the state claims, is well in excess of what NECC was allowed to be distributing. Compounding companies are meant to create personalized drugs for local hospitals and clinics. In shipping these pharmaceuticals to over twenty states, many claim that NECC was operating a full-blown drug distribution company without any oversight from the FDA at all.
Those who were treated with the tainted medicine have suffered stroke, central nervous system infections, joint infections (knees, hips, shoulders, and/or elbows) symptoms of meningitis, like fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, slurred speech and altered mental states like confusion. In addition to these ailments, however, many patients are complaining of an infection near the injection site, known as an epidural abscess.