All 50 states are now on alert due to a fungal meningitis outbreak centered in Tennessee, as federal health officials are asking every doctor to stop using all products from the New England Compounding Center.
That pharmacy, based in Waverly, MA, produced the epidural steroid that may be to blame for this deadly outbreak. And the Channel 4 I-Team has learned several major hospitals in Middle Tennessee get drugs from that pharmacy.
The New England Compounding Center makes specialty mixtures of drugs that aren't regulated by the FDA like other medicines, and that pharmacy is already under investigation for a complaint that happened even before people started getting sick.
The I-Team has learned drugs from the now closed Massachusetts pharmacy have been used at hospitals across Middle Tennessee. The chief medical officer for TriStar Health says they did not receive any of the contaminated drugs from the New England Compounding Center, but their large hospital network - that includes Skyline, Centennial, Summit and Stonecrest - has received other drugs from NECC.
"In an effort to be as safe as possible, so there are no questions about it, we are pulling those products. And we're going to go in a different direction for patient care," said TriStar Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Ardoin.
The I-Team spoke with a compounding pharmacy industry expert Thursday who said it is standard practice to use compounding pharmacies, especially to help with unique drug mixtures and dosing or with drug shortages.
But, David Miller, executive vice president of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, questions why Tennessee providers were using a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy at all.
"That's, again, one of the things that needs to be examined in this particular case. Why were Nashville-based clinics dealing with a pharmacy that's located in Massachusetts when there are compounding pharmacies throughout the state of Tennessee, close to Nashville and in Nashville that could have provided this level of service," Miller said.
The I-Team asked TriStar why they chose to use drugs from the New England Compounding Center, and they said NECC had been viewed as a reputable company.
However, the Massachusetts pharmacy was already under investigation before the outbreak by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health over a complaint about the potency of an eye surgery drug made there.
Facilities, such as the New England Compounding Center, aren't inspected very much at all in Massachusetts. Instead, inspectors only show up when a place opens or after a complaint has been filed.
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