The cure is supposed to be better for you than the disease you have. Those who have severe back pain, for example, should benefit from whatever medicine or treatment that is used to alleviate the pain. Unfortunately, a rare meningitis outbreak is being linked to spinal injections used to treat back pain.
The drug that is being used is said to have been created by a compound pharmacy that is not regulated as much by the FDA. The improper regulation is shedding light on a type of drug production that has a distressing history. It also has caused the deaths of five people and many more continue to get sick.
In Minnesota, four patients from various pain clinics are showing signs of a rare form of meningitis and are being asked to be tested. The disease is fungal meningitis and is being linked to steroid injections given to patients who are experiencing back and neck pain.
According to Marsha Thiel, the chief executive officer of Medical Advanced Pain Specialists, clinics are working with health officials to locate roughly 700 patients that received the above treatment. MAPS have a number of locations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area as well as owning the Minnesota Surgery Center clinics.
The now-recalled product that was obtained from a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts was also used there on patients. Thiel said that, “There’s a massive effort to contact all the patients. If there’s any question at all, they’re being directed to go to their physician.”
She also mentioned that the clinics received the steroid on July 3rd and finally stopped using it on September 26th. Within that time, they received two lots of the steroid and used the first batch on 100 patients and the second on roughly 600. “This just happened to be our supplier and we happened to get the lots that are in question,” Thiel said.
The problem, however, is not confined to Minnesota as the steroid has been linked to 35 cases of the meningitis in six states and has caused five deaths. While the investigation continues, investigators Thursday had advised doctors nationwide to avoid any products from the New England Company. It is said that at least 23 states received vials from the recalled lots.
Alarmingly, this is not the first time the company was warned about compounding their products. Two complaints were filed against the company, 2002 and 2003, and were investigated. The results caused the company to enter an agreement in 2006 with the Massachusetts Department of Health to correct any deficiencies.
In that same year, it seems that the FDA not only had a warning for the company but four other firms as well. They warned against compounding topical anesthetic creams for “general distribution rather than responding to the unique medical needs of individual patients.” The FDA said that too much of the anesthetic in a rubbed-on cream can cause irregular heartbeats, seizures and at least two deaths have resulted.
In 2005, two people were blinded in Washington, D.C. In 2006, three died in Virginia and three more deaths in Oregon the following year. 2009 saw twenty-one dead polo horses and earlier this year, 33 people in seven states have fungal eye infections.
At present, 35 sickened with fungal meningitis and five dead that have been linked to the steroid shots for back pain. The common link with all of these disasters involved medicines that had been custom mixed at “compounding pharmacies”-laboratories that supply doctors, hospitals and clinics to a much wider degree in the United States than many people realize.
It is obvious that there needs to be more regulation and observation on these companies that use compounding medicine practices. Considering the dangers involved with making sure a medicine is sterile and has not come into contact with bacteria or a fungus, the stakes are too high to leave things the way that they are.
In the meantime, the roughly 600 patients in Minnesota that need to be tracked down can only hope and pray that once they do get tested, they have not contracted the fungal meningitis.
Meningitis Outbreak Linked to Spinal Steroid Injections
Over 30 cases of fungal meningitis have been linked to a steroid treatment for back pain