The meningitis outbreak linked to the Framingham, Mass., compounding center stemmed from three batches of preservative-free methylprednisolone, an anti-inflammatory drug. The drugs were distributed to 23 states, including Maryland, and sickened 741 patients, many of them with fungal meningitis, an infection of the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Maryland has recorded 26 cases.

Most of the contaminated doses were injected into the spines of patients seeking relief for back pain. Other patients contracted infections after receiving the injections in arthritic joints.

Pharmacists and health care providers said that while sterile compounding poses risks, it's important that it be allowed to continue.

Compounding is common, for example, with anesthesia drugs frequently used in surgeries. If the drugs weren't allowed to be produced in large batches, it could lead to a delay in surgeries, said Pegeen Townsend, vice president for government affairs for MedStar Health, the Columbia-based hospital system.

"You don't know who it's going to be, but you know five patients coming in for this procedure are going to need this drug," Townsend said.

In other cases, doctors might want to mix two FDA-approved drugs in a way that isn't available commercially or to alter an FDA-approved drug to accommodate a patient allergy.

"There's an awful lot of things out there prescribed to a particular patient that are not available commercially," said Frank Palumbo, a professor of pharmacy and executive director of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy Center on Drugs and Public Policy.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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sn't available commercially or to alter an FDA-approved drug to accommodate a patient allergy.

"There's an awful lot of things out there prescribed to a particular patient that are not available commercially," said Frank Palumbo, a professor of pharmacy and executive director of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy Center on Drugs and Public Policy.

Reuters contributed to this article.

sdance@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ssdance

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twitter.com/ssdance