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Reflections on the NECC Compounding Tragedy

Nov 05, 2012

Paul W. Abramowitz, Pharm.D., Sc.D. (Hon.), FASHP

I, LIKE MOST OF YOU, CONTINUE TO FOLLOW the news out of Framingham, Mass., as more is learned about the operations at the New England Compounding Center (NECC).

What investigators are finding—unsatisfactory conditions, shipping of product before the results of sterility testing were known, and inattention to other known safeguards—deeply upsets me. These types of practices are totally unacceptable anywhere, at any time. The patients who relied on these medications deserved much better, and our sympathies go out to all of the affected patients and their families. But condolences cannot begin to replace their losses. Enhanced safeguards must be put into place so that this does not happen again.

Having said this, however, it’s important to note that I am also concerned that compounding by pharmacists—a practice that is essential to patient care—may be broadly called into question. Compounding and pharmacy are inextricably linked.

From preparing a topical cream to the complex processes involved in preparing sterile products, compounding happens every day in every hospital and health system. What happened at NECC does not reflect the professionalism and commitment to patients provided by pharmacists throughout the country. We cannot allow what happened there to shape the public perception of a critical element of patient care.

ASHP has a long history of pushing for the highest standards for compounding and sterile product preparation in hospitals. In the early 1990s, we began publishing practice recommendations in AJHP. We published the “ASHP Technical Assistance Bulletin on Quality Assurance for Pharmacy-Prepared Sterile Products (TAB)” in 1993. The TAB established the three-tier risk assessment structure that was later adapted by USP for use in the <797> standards for sterile compounding. Our guidelines on outsourcing sterile compounding services urge pharmacy departments to conduct due diligence when outsourcing compounding services.

It is essential for the safety of all patients that all pharmacies that compound medications, regardless of the setting, adhere to the very highest standards. In addition, state boards of pharmacy will need additional resources to provide strict oversight of compounding pharmacies and provide more transparency.  And when companies cross the line from compounding to manufacturing, there needs to be enhanced coordination between state boards and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that the necessary regulatory scrutiny is applied.

We know the important role that compounding plays in patient care, but we have a fair amount of work to do to restore the public’s trust after this tragic event. As hospital and health-system pharmacists, we have always taken the lead in medication safety in our practice settings, ensuring that our patients can always depend upon us. ASHP pledges to work diligently to restore that trust and to help prevent a tragic and unfortunate event like this from ever happening again.

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