On Monday, November 5, 2012, the Indiana State Department of Health announced that 51 Indiana residents have been infected with fungal meningitis and the death toll rose to four victims. Nationwide, the total number of people sickened stands at 409, and 30 people have died.
How did this epidemic start? Investigators are not sure how the tainting occurred, but they do know that the drugs were manufactured at a drug company in Massachusetts called the New England Compounding Center. The contaminated drugs are steroids that are injected in patients to help relieve pain. The majority of the people who have fallen ill were suffering from chronic back pain and the drug was injected into their spine to provide some relief. An additional 10 people who had the injections in other places, such as hips or elbows have contracted peripheral joint infections, but there have been no deaths reported.
In an attempt to figure out how this happened, Congress has subpoenaed one of the owners of the drug company. Attorneys representing the drug company are saying there are too many differing state and federal laws regarding pharmacies and drug manufacturers and that their client has done nothing wrong. In the meantime, the number of lawsuits continues to grow.
In Indiana, at least one wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a man who died after receiving an injection that was contaminated by a fungus. They hope that the lawsuit will answer the question of how these dangerous drugs were able to be sold and administered to patients, including their lost loved one. They are seeking compensatory damages for lost income, loss of companionship, and medical and burial expenses. The lawsuit also request punitive damages, which are commonly included in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. This type of damages is meant to cost the company or individual at fault enough additional expense to deter them from acting in a similar manner in the future. In this case, the drug company, if it is even allowed to reopen for business, will hopefully determine what caused the contamination and take whatever measures are necessary to keep this type of outbreak from occurring again.