Health Comish: Meningitis Episode Preventable

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state is taking steps to make sure mistakes made at a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy blamed for a fatal meningitis outbreak don’t occur at similar centers in Tennessee, the state’s health commissioner said Wednesday.
John Dreyzehner told members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that what happened at the New England Compounding Center was preventable.
The outbreak, discovered in Tennessee in September, is linked to steroid injections from the center. Compounding pharmacies custom-mix medications in doses or in forms that generally aren’t commercially available.
“What happened in Massachusetts was tragic, but totally preventable,” Dreyzehner said.
In Tennessee, the commissioner said the number of people sickened by the outbreak is 147 with 14 deaths. Nationwide, 693 people have gotten sick and 45 people have been killed.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis is not contagious.
Dreyzehner said a task force formed by the state Board of Pharmacy has been discussing preventive measures, such as more regulation, and is expected to make recommendations at a hearing on Thursday.
He acknowledged that compounding pharmacy regulation is complex, but essential.
“We need to consider how to do these things more safely to make sure they don’t happen again,” he said.
Even though the fungal meningitis outbreak was discovered in Tennessee in September, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say the earliest deaths tied to it date to July.
Health officials say as many as 14,000 people received the steroid shots, mostly for back pain. In early October, the company issued a nationwide recall of the steroid and ceased operations. Later that month, Massachusetts moved to permanently revoke the company’s pharmacy license after inspectors found unsterile conditions at its Framingham facilities.
State officials charge the company with violating its state license, which permitted the company to make drugs only for individual patients based on specific prescriptions. Instead, state officials say, the company made large batches of drugs for broad distribution.
Last month, a bankruptcy court judge froze the assets of the four owners of the company, clearing the way for creditors to determine what’s left of the millions the owners received from the firm.

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