The media coverage of the meningitis outbreak continued throughout the weekend as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of related illness increased from 35 to 91, and the number of deaths increased from five to seven.
Unfortunately, many more patients may be involved; a situation where a simple steroid injection to the spine to relieve pain has turned into death and likely permanent disability. The fungus-tainted vials of steroid have been traced to a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, and according to The New York Times, almost 18,000 of the vials have been shipped to clinics across the country.
The Associated Press reported Monday morning that Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is demanding stronger federal government oversight of compounding pharmacies. Currently, compounding pharmacies are regulated by state boards. Again according to The New York Times, the FDA did have a clear set of rules overseeing compounding pharmacies, but a Supreme Court decision in 2002 struck down these rules; Congress has since never dealt effectively with the compounding pharmacy regulatory issue. Some consumers see compounding pharmacies as providing less expensive alternatives to FDA-approved treatments, and have provided product when pharmaceutical companies have experienced shortages. Unfortunately, drug shortages have become more common, perhaps due to economic realities and profit-loss calculations, leaving the door open to the services of compounding pharmacies.