Editorial: Look harder at drug compounding centers

The New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts. The pharmacy is currently being investigated for producing a contaminated steroid shot that included the meningitis fungus that has killed at least five people. (Oct. 5, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

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The consequences of a national outbreak of meningitis from a widely used back-pain treatment are expected to worsen this week as doctors and clinics track down thousands of patients who may have received a contaminated dose of a steroid injection.

The scare is linked to the New England Compounding Center, a type of processing facility that mixes a concentrated form of a drug with a liquid solution and repackages it. The center has recalled 17,676 vials likely contaminated with a common fungus. That's dangerous, because this steroid treatment is injected directly into the spine and can affect the nervous system.

Compounding pharmacies, which fall in the cracks between federal and state regulation, have had similar safety problems in the past. It's time for a closer look at these manufacturers by the Food and Drug Administration.

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