The fallout from the meningitis scandal seems to worsen every day. Tainted vials of steroids from New England Compounding Center, a Framingham specialty pharmacy, have led to more than 300 illnesses, at least 28 deaths, and now, a voluntary recall of products from the company’s sister pharmacy, which could have ripple effects in hospitals nationwide. State officials, once cautious, have now stepped up their rhetoric, but their newfound fury calls into relief a larger problem: How state regulators somehow failed to notice, over the past decade, the dramatic growth and apparent production shortcuts that occurred in a compounding pharmacy industry that has come to play a critical role in medical treatment.
Compounding pharmacies operate under a legal structure that treated them as mom-and-pop operations, which create small quantities of carefully prepared medicine for patients with particular needs. But New England Compounding Center and its sister company, Westborough-based Ameridose, had much larger ambitions than the typical neighborhood drugstore. Apparently capitalizing on a culture of lax oversight, they wound up doing what amounts to mass production, potentially in violation of a state law that forbade them to dispense drugs without individual prescriptions.