The Garden City Telegram
10/16/2012
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Deadly shots

Meningitis outbreak proves shortcomings in regulation.

The number of deaths linked to an outbreak of fungal meningitis continues to rise.

As of Monday, 15 people nationwide had died from the illness linked to contaminated steroid shots for back pain. More than 200 people became sick from the shot.

The outbreak was traced to a medication used in steroid injections and produced by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts. All medications from the facility have since been recalled.

Meningitis results in inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include severe and worsening headache, nausea, dizziness and fever.

The outbreak understandably frightened people nationwide. St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City was quick to let people know it does not purchase any medications from the Massachusetts pharmacy in question.

So far, cases have spread to 15 states, but none in Kansas.

It's easy to see how in the wake of national news reports, people wondered whether the problem could be more widespread with the medication being used for something other than back pain, such as a labor epidural. Health officials said it wasn't.

As federal health officials worked to track down people who may have received contaminated shots, the practices of pharmacies that custom-mix medicinal compounds — as in this case — understandably were called into question.

Regulators, health experts and lawmakers need to take a close look at the practice of compounding that has pharmacies preparing specific doses of approved medications to meet individual patients' needs.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the practice of compounding. That oversight must be addressed.

The pharmacy blamed for the outbreak also reportedly violated its license to produce prescriptions for individual patients, and instead turned out large quantities of drugs. That alone should warrant criminal charges.

Knowing this wasn't the first time an outbreak of illness was linked to custom-mixed medicine, federal and state regulators must do more to scrutinize practices at such pharmacies as a way to better protect the public.

People seeking health care deserve to know the medications they receive are safe. In this instance, the system failed far too many people and their families.