Because the fungal meningitis outbreak was so catastrophic in terms of lives lost and pain needlessly suffered, it was only a matter of time before survivors began to seek remuneration from the parties responsible. Not only are the owners of the compounding pharmacy being sued, many of the physicians who administered the tainted shots are also facing litigation.
While it cannot be denied that the blame for the fungal meningitis disaster lays at the feet of a compounding pharmacy that flouted not only governmental regulations, but also basic pharmaceutical practices of health, safety and due diligence, many patients are nonetheless beginning to wonder if the clinics that administered the tainted shots shouldn’t bear some responsibility as well.
The entire matter is extremely delicate. While it is true that the New England Compounding Center was woefully inept at maintaining an environment suitable for the production of an extremely delicate and difficult to manufacture drug, the Massachusetts regulatory boards did little, if anything to oversee or police their practices. The NECC was inspected several times by the FDA as well as state board officials, who issued warnings and concerns that were completely ignored, and yet the regulatory bodies did nothing to follow up on those warnings, leaving thousands of patients in jeopardy.
One of the main reasons compounding pharmacies distribute so many vials of epidural steroid is because many physicians believe in the studies that report of the dangers of using injectable drugs that contain preservatives. While there are many conflicting studies regarding the potential hazards of preservatives in injectable applications, the crux of the objection to the commonly used pharmaceutical preservatives is that they may trigger outbreaks of arachnoiditis, an incurable inflammation of the arachnoid membrane which surrounds the spinal column. This condition is painful, chronic, has debilitating side effects, and requires more or less constant pain management therapy and treatment. Injectable steroids that do not contain preservatives can only be obtained through compounding pharmacies, not FDA regulated drug companies.
The lack of chemical preservatives, however, leaves these drugs extremely vulnerable to bacterial and fungal contamination. If improperly stored, these vials of medicines can turn into a breeding ground for all types of microbes. As we have seen, this can have disastrous consequences.
It has been reported that the injectable steroids that were distributed from the NECC were so contaminated that matter could be seen in the vials with the naked eye. If this was the case, is it then possible that the physicians who continued to use these obviously problematic drugs could then be partially culpable for the fungal meningitis outbreak?
Perhaps there is enough blame to go around. Unfortunately for the victims, the NECC, having declared bankruptcy, simply does not have the money to compensate the victims adequately, and legal experts have clearly advised their clients to seek compensation where they can: from the physicians and medical centers.It is impossible to know the extent of the culpability of the individual doctors and treatment centers. If it can be proven that these drugs were administered even after it was suspected that there could be something wrong with them, then perhaps the victims have a point. However, for doctors acting in good faith with the sincere desire to alleviate the pain and suffering of their patients, it would be unfortunate to be painted with the same brush as a negligent compounding pharmacy.