Seven Maryland health care centers that received tainted steroids linked to a nationwide meningitis outbreak will be required to turn over documents and give testimony under subpoenas filed last week in a federal lawsuit.
A steering committee of lawyers representing patients who were given doses of the medication filed 76 of the subpoenas across the country. Patients in 22 states received injections of the steroids last year before they were recalled; 745 of them developed fungal meningitis or other health issues as a result, and 58 died.
"The purpose is to shed light on how this all happened," said Elisha Hawk, a lawyer with the Pikesville firm Janet, Jenner & Suggs, who is leading the steering committee's efforts in Maryland. There were 26 cases of meningitis and other illnesses in Maryland, and three deaths.
The subpoenas were filed Friday in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, where federal lawsuits from around the country are being consolidated. New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc., of Framingham, Mass., is the defendant in the lawsuits, accused of substandard practices that led to contamination of three lots of the steroids.
The company filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in December, saying it would set up a fund to compensate victims.
The Maryland facilities that received doses from the contaminated lots and were subpoenaed by lawyers are Baltimore Pain Management, Berlin Interventional Pain Management, Box Hill Surgery Center in Abingdon, Greenspring Surgery Center in Baltimore County, Harford County Ambulatory Surgery Center in Edgewood, Pain Medicine Specialists in Towson and SurgCenter of Bel Air.
The Massachusetts drug maker is what is known as a compounding pharmacy, which fills prescriptions that require alterations of medications from their Food and Drug Administration-approved form. The contaminated drugs were a preservative-free version of methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid used to relieve back or joint pain.
The facilities that received shipments of the tainted steroids and administered them to patients are not accused of any wrongdoing.
Officials from each Maryland center will be required to answer questions in depositions in mid-August, according to court documents.
Dozens of Marylanders have joined the lawsuits as plaintiffs, some of whom received tainted shots but never developed symptoms. Janet, Jenner & Suggs represents 39 people in the state, Hawk said.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes surrounding the skull and spinal cord, normally an infectious disease caused by a viral or bacterial infection. In this case, the infections came from fungus growing in the medications and were not contagious.
Maryland health officials are crafting new state regulations to prevent similar outbreaks. The General Assembly approved a law earlier this year giving the health department authority to increase its oversight of medications produced in out-of-state facilities like the New England compounding center.