Menin­gi­tis vic­tims awarded $40M

2012 out­break stem­ming from con­tam­i­nated drugs killed five Mary­lan­ders

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Mered­ith Cohn mered­ith.cohn@balt­sun.com

The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s Of­fice for Vic­tims of Crime will award $40 mil­lion to vic­tims of a deadly fun­gal menin­gi­tis out­break that be­gan in the fall of 2012, depart­ment of­fi­cials con­firmed Thurs­day.

The out­break stemmed from con­tam­i­nated drugs man­u­fac­tured by the New Eng­land Com­pound­ing Cen­ter in Fram­ing­ham, Mass., fed­eral of­fi­cials said. The out­break was first de­tected in Nashville, Tenn., but quickly be­came wide­spread, sick­en­ing 776 peo­ple and killing 75. In Mary­land, 28 peo­ple be­came ill and five died.

The Mas­sachusetts Depart­ment of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral will han­dle com­pen­sa­tion claims no mat­ter what state the vic­tims live in, ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

A Mary­land lawyer rep­re­sent­ing an 84-year-old Fall­ston res­i­dent did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. The man’s fam­ily had said he died not long af­ter re­ceiv­ing a spinal shot of a con­tam­i­nated steroid. The state med­i­cal ex­am­iner con­firmed that he died of the menin­gi­tis in­fec­tion.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions at the time found the fun­gus growing in­side vials of the steroid methyl­pred­nisolone ac­etate in­jected into pa­tients, most of whom were suf­fer­ing from back pain.

Menin­gi­tis is an in­fec­tion of the mem­branes that sur­round the brain and spinal cord.

Fun­gal ver­sions of the dis­ease are rare, and pub­lic health of­fi­cials with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence with such out­breaks ini­tially were not sure how long the in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod was. That caused fear among oth­ers who be­lieved they re­ceived in­jec­tions of the steroid pro­duced by the com­pany in Fram­ing­ham.

About 1,500 peo­ple in Mary­land were thought to have re­ceived in­jec­tions of the tainted med­i­ca­tion.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials have said that fun­gus­tainted steroids were sent by the cen­ter to 76 clin­ics in 23 states, in­clud­ing seven clin­ics in Mary­land.

Vic­tims al­ready have been able to tap into a $200 mil­lion com­pen­sa­tion fund es­tab­lished af­ter the bank­rupt com­pound­ing cen­ter’s as­sets were liq­ui­dated.

The new funds come from as­sets for­feited by peo­ple con­victed of crimes and are not tax­payer dol­lars.

Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski, a Mary­land Demo­crat who suc­cess­fully pushed leg­is­la­tion to im­prove the safety of com­pounded medicines af­ter the out­break, praised cre­ation of the fund on Thurs­day.

“The ac­tions by this one com­pound­ing phar­macy left 75 peo­ple dead from fun­gal menin­gi­tis,” Mikul­ski said in a state­ment. “This should have never hap­pened. It’s been four long years for these vic­tims, and they de­serve to be com­pen­sated for their in­juries and deaths of their loved ones. I will con­tinue fight­ing to en­sure the safety and se­cu­rity of our drug sup­ply chain, and make sure a tragedy like this never hap­pens again.”

Jus­tice of­fi­cials an­nounced a131-count fed­eral crim­i­nal in­dict­ment in­volv­ing 14 peo­ple con­nected to the out­break. The counts in­cluded rack­e­teer­ing and sec­ond-de­gree mur­der in var­i­ous states.

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