Meningitis Mess

The trouble with custom-made drugs

For what's normally a rare infection, fungal meningitis has been getting a lot of attention of late--and with good reason. In the past few weeks, health officials say, tainted injections of a pain-relieving steroid custom-produced by a Massachusetts-based company have triggered an outbreak of the disease in 15 U.S. states.

The company is a compounding pharmacy, a legitimate and often very useful operation that mixes special-order drugs at the request of doctors. The practice is growing as drug shortages and the awareness of allergies and adverse reactions to pharmaceutical ingredients increase. Typically a physician will write a prescription for a compounded...

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