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The pharmacy at the center of a storm

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7545 (Published 07 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7545
  1. Edward Davies, US news and features editor
  1. edavies{at}bmj.com

It’s taken a historical hurricane and a presidential election to remove the recent meningitis outbreak from the newspaper headlines, but if you thought it had gone away you’d be very wrong.

The outbreak was caused by the mass production of a tainted methylprednisolone injectable used to treat hundreds of patients for back and joint problems all over the United States. The worst hit state, Tennessee, is counting 12 deaths and 78 infections at the time of writing this and in total there have now been 30 deaths and well over 419 cases across the country.

These are very unlikely to be the final figures.

At the center of the outbreak is the town of Framingham in Massachusetts, and particularly the New England Compounding Center (NECC), located there. The NECC is the compounding pharmacy suspected of producing and distributing the tainted drugs, and it has ceased all production since the outbreak started.

Many doctors will not have thought much about the role of compounding pharmacies before, let alone been aware that the drugs they were prescribing came from one. But this outbreak has forced these pharmacies such as the NECC into the spotlight and asked some very tough questions about their role and regulation.

This week Allen Shaughnessy looks at precisely that—the role and regulation of compounding pharmacies—to understand how an outbreak like this can happen, and how it might be prevented in the future (doi:10.1136/bmj.e7432).

For 419 patients, and counting, this article comes too late. To stop any such future outbreaks, this subject and this feature, can’t be looked at too soon.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7545

Footnotes