Two Cumberland County Residents Suing Pharmacy In Meningitis Outbreak

A Vineland man and a Millville woman injected last month with a possibly tainted steroid medication sued the drug’s manufacturer Tuesday, claiming the company failed to establish proper safety procedures.

Brian Pennington and Jennifer Marko both have symptoms indicative of the fungal meningitis that health officials say is linked to the tainted medication, according to complaints filed in Superior Court in Bridgeton.

The lawsuit lists the symptoms as fever, sensitivity to light, slurred speech, a “heavy tongue” and neck and arm pain. Michael Barrett, the attorney representing Pennington and Marko, said his clients have not tested positive for fungal meningitis.

“They don’t now whether or not they will be victims of an illness that could result in paralysis or even death,” Barrett said. “They are literally scared to death.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 15 people have died from the fungal meningitis. There agency also says there are now 233 confirmed cases of fungal meningitis in 15 states.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that state health officials announced two more confirmed cases of fungal meningitis, with one of those patients being a 50-year-old Cumberland County man.

Of the 10 confirmed cases in New Jersey, six involve Cumberland County residents and one involves an Atlantic County resident. Nine of the 10 patients remained hospitalized Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, while the other person is being treated on an outpatient basis.

Federal and state health officials said the fungal meningitis is not contagious.

Listed as the primary defendant in the lawsuits is the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. The company manufactured the steroid treatment.

Also listed as a defendant is Premier Orthopedic Surgical Associates in Vineland. Pennington received his lumbar steroid injection at the facility on Sept. 10, while Marko received the same treatment there Sept. 19, according to the lawsuits.

Both injections were administered before New England Compounding Center issued a recall of the medication Aug. 25, Barrett acknowledged.

Pennington, of Almond Road, and Marko, of Tomasello Drive, both 45, named Kimberly Yvette Smith and Vanette Perkins, the physicians who administered the two injections, as additional defendants.

Marko declined comment Tuesday. Pennington could not be reached for comment.

Officials with Premier could not be reached for comment Tuesday. They said earlier that they used New England Compounding Center products without any problems. They also said they administered about 106 lumbar steroid injections using the medication that federal health officials say was tainted.

The steroid medication produced by New England Compounding Center is used to treat pain. Barrett said Pennington and Marko both suffer from chronic pain and are disabled. Barrett said his clients have received previous steroid injections at Premier.

Pennington and Marko charge in their lawsuits that the defendants either manufactured or sold a product that was not “reasonably fit, suitable or safe for its intended purpose.” They allege that the defendants either produce the medication in a “defective manner,” or failed to produce adequate warnings with the vaccine.

While the New England Compounding Center produced the medication, Barrett said Premier’s culpability will be determined as the case progresses. He said Premier should have known that the New England Compounding Center allegedly has past problems with the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Barrett said in a statement that the company settled a lawsuit in 2007 alleging that an 83-year-old man died in 2004 after contracting a fatal bacterial meningitis. The meningitis came from an “injection produced and prepared” at the company’s Framingham facility, the statement reads.

Barrett said he has been contacted by other people who received the lumbar steroid injections.

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