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Overtime 1:21

Framingham pharmacy hit with lawsuit

Meningitis cases increase to 184; deaths still at 14

The number of people known to be sickened with fungal meningitis linked to steroids made in Massachusetts increased to 184 Friday, while a patient from Minnesota filed a class action lawsuit against the Framingham compounding pharmacy that made the injectable drug.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of deaths blamed on the tainted steroid remains at 14, according to an update posted on the agency’s website Friday.

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In what may be the first lawsuit stemming from the widening meningitis outbreak, Barbe Puro sued New England Compounding Center Thursday on behalf of Minnesota patients. Puro, of Savage, Minn., received injections of the ­steroid called methylprednisolone acetate Sept. 17 at a pain clinic, according to the lawsuit. She suffered headaches and nausea for a week.

She was then called by health officials and told that she had been injected with a drug ­believed to be contaminated with fungus and was advised to see her doctor.

She underwent testing, includ­ing a spinal tap. The lawsuit does not describe the ­results of those tests or her current condition.

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New England Compounding has recalled all its drugs and shut down operations. Federal and state health officials are inves­tigating the company and the link between three lots of the steroid and the outbreak. Federal investigators have identified 50 vials of the drug contaminated with fungus.

Of the patients who have ­become sick so far, 184 had the steroid injected into their ­spinal area for back pain and developed fungal meningitis. Health officials said they believe other patients who got ­injections of methylprednisolone acetate into knee, shoulder, or ankle joints could also develop localized infections characterized by fever, swelling, and redness. One patient in Michigan who received an ­injection for joint pain has developed an infection in the ­ankle.

State officials said they are working with the Massachusetts Hospital Association to ­ensure that hospitals who relied on another compounding pharmacy with the same owners as New England Compounding can find alternatives. That company, Ameridose, has temporarily stopped production.

So far, the hospital association said it has not heard of hospitals having trouble finding other suppliers. Ameridose agreed to halt certain operations through Oct. 22 to give state and federal regulators time to inspect the facilities.

Tufts Medical Center in ­Boston receives filled syringes and other supplies from Ameridose. Spokeswoman Julie Jette said the hospital should be able to find an alternative supplier, or do the work itself. “It’s an ­inconvenience for us administratively, but we will be able to adapt,” Jette said.

New England Compounding let go about 40 of its roughly 50 workers over the past two days, said a person familiar with the situation. The company also released a statement saying it had a workforce reduction. The company said it is focused on recalling all its products and working with federal and state investigators.

“The events of the past two weeks are a great tragedy, and the thoughts and prayers of all those connected to New England Compounding Center continue to be with the individuals and families affected,” the firm said.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.
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