In September 2012, dozens of patients began exhibiting symptoms of a life-threatening form of meningitis, inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Most cases of meningitis are caused by a viral infection, but these patients had developed a rare form of the condition caused by a fungus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified an epidural steroid injection as the source of the fungal meningitis. The drug was packaged and distributed by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). Licensed as a compounding pharmacy, NECC was supposed to create personalized medications ordered by individual doctors for specific patients. Instead, NECC acted more like a drug manufacturer, producing mass quantities of its product for general use. Because it was licensed as a compounding pharmacy, however, NECC was not as tightly regulated or closely monitored as drug manufacturers are. Contamination in the steroid the NECC produced was the cause of the following conditions:
- Paraspinal/spinal infection
- Peripheral joint infection
The NECC fungal infection has been linked to 64 deaths and 751 injuries in 20 states, including at least one death and 20 patient injuries in Ohio.
NECC lost its compounding license and filed for bankruptcy. In May of this year, the company reached a settlement for $100 million in victim compensation. The pharmacy owners agreed to pay $50 million and the insurance company will contribute $25 million to a victims’ compensation fund. Tax refunds and proceeds from the sale of the company account for the remainder.
During its investigation, the CDC found serious violations of drug manufacturing rules, most notably, unsanitary conditions at the compounding facility. Prior to the 2012 meningitis outbreak, several complaints were made about the NECC operations, dating as far back as 1999, less than one year after the company opened.
The compensation is of small comfort to the hundreds of permanently disabled patients and the families of those who died. If you became ill after undergoing any kind of medical treatment, discuss your case with an experienced Cleveland medical malpractice attorney who can help determine if medical malpractice is to blame.