Drugs from tainted Massachusetts lab may be in Berkshires, doctors warn

Friday October 26, 2012

A Berkshire County orthopedic practice has alerted some of its patients that they may have been administered medications made at the same lab responsible for a meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroids.

The letter to patients from Berkshire Orthopaedic Associates, with offices in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, notes that none of the medications administered to their patients have been linked to any of the meningitis cases, but they have been recalled because they were manufactured at the same facility.

No meningitis cases from the tainted steroids have been identified in Massachusetts.

New England Compounding Center in Framingham was closed down after a fungal meningitis outbreak was linked to a steroid made in the lab. In 18 states, 328 people have been infected. So far, 24 of the victims have died. The steroid was used for treating back pain with injections close to the spine.

The NECC steroids were recalled on Sept. 25. All other medication produced by NECC were recalled on Oct. 6.

The letter sent by the Berkshires practice to its patients read, in part, "You are receiving this letter because you may have received one of the NECC medications which were part of the Oct. 6 precautionary recall. Again, the in jectable medication that you received has not been linked to the outbreak."

The letter advises patients experiencing symptoms that cause them any concern to contact their doctors.

Symptoms to look for, the letter continued, include fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, and sensitivity to bright light. Others include swollen or inflamed joints, red and painful eyes or blurry vision.

Representatives of Berkshire Ortho paedic Associates did not return phone calls seeking comment before press time on Thursday.

Both Berkshire Medical Center and North Adams Regional Hospital have not seen any related meningitis cases, and they have pulled all NECC medication -- not just the tainted steroids -- when the initial steroid recall was issued.

"We want to assure our patients that Berkshire Med ical Center has never used the steroid injection indicated in the investigation of the New England Compounding Cent er," said Michael Leary, spokes man for BMC.

Leary noted that both BMC and Fairview Hospital had recently procured a "small number of other medications from NECC, all of which have been removed since the investigation opened. They were purchased before the problems with NECC were reported, but as a precautionary measure we discontinued the use of all of those medications when the investigation was announced."

NARH spokesman Paul Hopkins outlined similar procedures taken at the North County hospital.

"Upon revelations that medication produced at the New England Compounding Center was suspected as the cause of fungal meningitis, NARH immediately confirmed that the medication in question has never been used here," Hopkins said. "Two other medications produced by NECC, but not included in the recall, were removed from NARH's pharmacy."

Health officials have tracked down most of the 14,000 people in 18 states -- Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indi ana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia -- potentially at risk for fungal meningitis.

The CDC said Wed nesday that the biggest risk for getting sick seems to be within 42 days of receiving one of the implicated back injections.

Material provided by The Associated Press was used in this report.

To reach Scott Stafford:
or (413) 496-6241.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford


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