Two Cumberland County residents who received steroid injections to relieve chronic pain are asserting in separate complaints filed today that a Massachusetts-based pharmacy is responsible for exposing them to potentially deadly fungal meningitis.
According to their attorney, the two residents filling suits do not currently have fungal meningitis.
Attorney Michael Barrett, of Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C., filed the lawsuits on behalf of Jennifer Marko, 45, of Millville, and Brian Pennington, 45, of Vineland, in which each alleges that the New England Compounding Center (NECC) pharmacy produced the fungus-laced drug by failing to follow long established, standard safety practices for a compounding pharmacy.
Fungal meningitis is not contagious, according to the CDC.
According to reports, the New England Compounding Center has previously been investigated for contaminated injections. In 2007, the company settled a lawsuit that claimed that an 83-year-old man died in 2004 after contracting fatal bacterial meningitis from an injection produced and prepared in its Framingham facility. The case was settled prior to going to trial.
Nationally, more than 230 cases of fungal meningitis linked to the injections have been confirmed and 15 people have died.
Locally, six Cumberland County residents have been diagnosed, two from Salem County, and one each from Gloucester and Atlantic counties. All patients have received treatment at South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center.
One of the ten patients was treated at an outpatient level and was not admitted to the hospital after an evaluation. The patient did meet the criteria and was determined to be a “probable case.” The patient is being treated from home, SJH officials said Tuesday.
Marko received her injection on Sept. 19, at Premier Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Associates of Southern New Jersey, LLC, while Pennington’s injection was given at the same medical practice on Sept. 10, according to the complaints.
“Like thousands of others, Ms. Marko and Mr. Pennington relied upon NECC. Now, they are both experiencing post-injection symptoms and are fearful of contracting fungal meningitis. They fear for their lives,” Barrett said.
The steroid compound produced by NECC is methylprednisolone acetate, often used to treat chronic back or joint pain. It was tainted with a common fungus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The drug was widely prescribed for patients suffering back or joint pain, particularly in knees and shoulders. The rare but not contagious form of fungal meningitis (unlike bacterial meningitis) is inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
In all, 634 New Jersey patients received the tainted steroids from May 21 to Sept. 26 from the following facilities:
Center Jersey Orthopedics Specialists, PC in South Plainfield.
Edison Surgical Center, in Edison.
IF Pain Associates/Isaiah Florence, in Teaneck.
Premier Orthopaedic Associates, in Vineland.
Comprehensive Pain Management, in Sparta.
Elmer Hospital, South Jersey Healthcare, in Elmer.
South Jersey Regional Medical Center, South Jersey Healthcare, in Vineland.
[From staff and wire reports]