First Meningitis Lawsuits Filed in NJ

Two Cumberland County residents who received tainted steroid injections have filed lawsuits.

Two South Jersey residents are among the first to file lawsuits against Massachusetts based pharmacy, New England Compounding Center, which is allegedly responsible for exposing them to potentially deadly fungal meningitis.

The outbreak has killed at least 15 people and sickened more than 200 others in 15 states, including New Jersey.

The lawsuits were filed on Tuesday on behalf of Jennifer Marko, 45, of Millville and Brian Pennington, 45, of Vineland.

Both allege the company produced the fungus-laced steroid medication known as methylprednisolone acetate by failing to follow standard safety practices for a compounding company.

According to the complaints, Marko received her injection on September 19, 2012, at Premier Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Associates of Southern New Jersey. Pennington’s injection was given at the same medical practice in Vineland, N.J., on September 10, 2012.

Marko and Pennington have not been diagnosed with fungal meningitis, but according to the lawsuits, they are experiencing post-injection symptoms and are fearful of contracting the illness.

Federal and state investigators have been tightlipped about any problems they may have seen at the New England Compounding Center or whether they have pinpointed the source of the contamination. They did disclose last week that they found fungus in more than 50 vials from the pharmacy.

Company spokesman Andrew Paven said by email that criminal investigators from the Food and Drug Administration were at the pharmacy in Framingham, Mass., on Tuesday. The visit was part of a broad federal and state investigation of the outbreak, FDA spokesman Steven Immergut said in an email.

Company attorney Paul Cirel says it's ``difficult to understand the purpose'' of the FDA search. He says the company has been clear it would voluntarily provide anything investigators requested. He says the company will continue to cooperate.

New England Compounding has not commented on its production process or what might have gone wrong.

Last month, New England Compounding recalled three lots of steroids made since May that totaled 17,676 single-dose vials of medicine, roughly equivalent to 20 gallons.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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