State regulators: Hospitals may share drugs to avoid shortages following meningitis outbreak

Massachusetts public health regulators Wednesday adopted emergency regulations that will allow hospitals to share medications to address drug shortages created by the closure of two specialty pharmacies following a national outbreak of fungal meningitis.

The rules adopted by the state’s public health council, an appointed board of professors, clinicians, and public health advocates, will go into effect Dec. 1.

Injectable steroids produced at the New England Compounding Center have been blamed for sickening 490 people, 34 of whom have died. The Framingham pharmacy supplied certain drugs to most hospitals in the state and hundreds around the country. Its sister company, Ameridose in Westborough, was a major supplier to hospitals in the state and also was shuttered. All products from both pharmacies were recalled in September and October.

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Iyah Romm, policy and health planning director at the Department of Public Health, told the council Wednesday morning that hospitals were reporting shortages of certain medications before the outbreak. But, he said, the shortages have increased since their closures last month.

The rules are primarily aimed at allowing hospitals to share drugs within their health care systems. But the state could consider special requests to distribute them outside those organizations.

An e-mailed statement from the Massachusetts Hospital Association called the change “a significant and positive step toward easing the medication shortage,” but the group said it won’t solve the issue over the long term.

Romm said the emergency regulations will allow the department to review hospitals’ methods for compounding and transporting the medications they share with other health care centers, to ensure they are “not compromising patient care.”

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