Seven years after an outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to tainted prescription drugs killed 100 people and sickened hundreds more, the Food and Drug Administration says the type of medication involved still poses risks.
And a former top FDA official says that despite sweeping reforms that she helped implement following the outbreak, the public needs to be aware that issues remain.
"I think consumers can protect themselves by having information in hand about the drugs that they're taking," former FDA senior science advisor Julie Dohm said in an interview with CNBC's "American Greed."
At issue are so-called "compounded" drugs — specialized formulations of medications that are tailored to a particular patient's needs. So, for example, if a patient is unable to swallow a pill, a doctor might prescribe the medication in liquid form even if it is not available from the manufacturer. That is where special facilities known as compounding pharmacies come in. Millions of people use compounded drugs every year, though many may not realize it.
The 2012 meningitis outbreak was linked to injectable steroids produced by the New England Compounding Center, a compounding pharmacy outside Boston. There, investigators found deplorable conditions including mold and bacteria in supposed "clean rooms" where medications were produced.
NECC owner Barry Cadden is serving a nine-year federal prison sentence after a jury convicted him in 2017 on fraud and conspiracy charges for cutting corners to maximize profits. In one NECC sales meeting, captured on videotape, Cadden refers to cleaning procedures and other quality control measures as "boring stuff."