Oct 15, 2012
As of the writing of this article, 14 people have died and another 185 people are sick in a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis caused by tainted steroid injections. Worse still, the CDC says that 14,000 people may have been exposed to the tainted steroid injections. This is potentially deadly because this type of meningitis can take three, four or even more months to develop and show symptoms.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is typically caused by a bacteria which can be treated with antibiotics or a virus for which there is no treatment. But in this case it was caused by a fungus. There is no known easy or clear way to treat fungal meningitis. Right now doctors are treating patients with several months of two types of intravenous antifungal drugs which can lead to kidney and liver damage. In other words the treatment itself can lead to death.
The steroid injections manufactured by NECC (New England Compounding Center) were produced without preservatives like benzyl alcohol, which help sterilize steroids against fungal growth. Thus, fungal contamination.
The tainted steroid injections were manufactured by NECC in Massachusetts. Until recently, compounding pharmacies only mixed drugs to order on an individual basis. For example, if a person is allergic to an inactive ingredient in a drug, a compounding pharmacist can remix the product to make it safe for that one individual.
But that is not what New England Compound Center was doing. Nor hundreds of other compound pharmacies today. They are mass-producing drugs for sale to clinics and doctors’ offices across state lines. But since compounding pharmacies don’t come under the FDA’s supervision even if the FDA had enough inspectors. There is no safety control.
These compounding pharmacies found a loophole to avoid even the inadequate, inefficient regulation of the FDA in order to make a lot of money. Regard for human life? Forget it – not when there is profit to be made.