Local Health Centers Not Connected to Outbreak
BY TED M. NATT JR.
Two health care providers in Moore County have been identified as customers of a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak, according to a list made public last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But The Laser Institute of Pinehurst and The Eye Surgery Center of the Carolinas in Southern Pines bought drugs other than methylprednisolone acetate, an injectible steroid used most often to ease back pain. That drug has been linked to the outbreak.
Federal health officials say about 14,000 people have received injections of tainted steroids produced by New England Compounding Center (NECC) of Framingham, Mass. The firm has been shut down, its products recalled, and its license permanently revoked.
"We did not receive or administer medication from the three infected lots of methylprednisolone and are aware of no unusual reports of eye problems, meningitis or fungal infections of our patients," Kathy Stout, a registered nurse and administrator at The Eye Surgery Center, said in a statement. "We are committed to working with the government and health care community to keep our patients informed and as safe as possible."
Dr. Ofelia Melley, founder of The Laser Institute, said she has never purchased steroids from New England Compounding.
"We used them because they were nationally recognized for their topical anesthetic," Melley said.
Melley said she read about the meningitis outbreak in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 10 and immediately sent all NECC products back to the company.
"We packed it up and shipped it out," she said. "I didn't even know there was a recall until a few days later."
Emily Sloan, a spokewoman for FirstHealth of the Carolinas, said FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital purchased hydroxyprogesterone, a synthetic hormone used to reduce the risk of preterm birth, last May from NECC.
"This product has no known association with confirmed disease, nor has it proven to be contaminated," Sloan said. "FirstHealth has contacted the patient who received this product. We are not aware that this patient has had any problems or concerning symptoms as a result of the use of this product."
Sloan added that FirstHealth "has not purchased any of the contaminated product identified from NECC."
The outbreak of fungal meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, has sickened more than 300 people in 18 states and resulted in 24 deaths, including one in North Carolina.
NECC is what is known as a compounding pharmacy, which custom-mixes solutions, creams and other medications in doses or in forms that generally aren't commercially available.
Compounding pharmacies are not regulated as closely as drug manufacturers, and their products are not subject to FDA approval.
Contact Ted Natt at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@thepilot. com.
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