Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pain Care LLC owner: ‘I think we’re very much victims like the patients’

MERRIMACK – The CEO and owner of Pain Care LLC worries his clinics will be painted with the same brush as the pharmacy responsible for the tainted steroids administered at pain clinics in New Hampshire.

“We simply administered the drug that we thought was perfectly fine,” Dr. Michael O’Connell said Thursday. “I think we’re very much victims like the patients.”

As many as 740 people with chronic pain were exposed to the tainted steroids, but a majority of those are at lower risk of infection because of the type of injection they received.

O’Connell said 215 patients received spinal injections of the tainted steroids produced by New England Compounding Center, a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts.

A total of 13,000 patients received the drug nationwide. The drug has been blamed for 119 cases of fungal meningitis, 11 of which have been fatal. No cases have been reported in New Hampshire.

O’Connell said Pain Care, which has 11 clinics in New Hampshire, has contacted all 215 patients who received the drug as an epidural, and has contacted most of the 525 patients who received injections of the drug in muscle or a joint. Those type of injections carry a lower risk of infection, he said. 

“Our hearts go out to the victims and we’re doing everything we can to stay on top of this. I think we’re on top of this soon enough that we’ll be able to prevent the most serious manifestations.”
O’Connell said business at his clinics has not dropped off but phone calls and worry has definitely increased. He encouraged anyone who received the injections to contact the clinic if they haven’t already, particularly if there have been symptoms that may indicate a meningitis infection, including severe headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, loss of balance or slurred speech. 

About 50 patients have had spinal taps either at Pain Care’s urging or to reassure themselves. Most have tested negative but a “handful” have shown elevated white blood cell counts, O’Connell said.
“Those could be problematic and could turn into the definition of a case of meningitis,” he said.

Only three of Pain Care’s clinics – in Merrimack, Somersworth and Newington – received shipments of the drug, methylprednisolone, from NECC, O’Connell said, and only patients in Merrimack and Somersworth received spinal injections.

Compounding pharmacies make their own drug products, and an Oct. 4 news analysis in the The New York Times said the meningitis outbreak “was a calamity waiting to happen,” because compounding pharmacies are lightly regulated and the legal status of compounded drugs is unclear.
O’Connell said pain management clinics routinely use compounded drugs and his clinics use several medications from a number of distributors.

He said his clinics used what turned out to be tainted drugs, in part, because they were alcohol-free. It’s difficult to find comparable drugs from pharmaceutical companies that don’t include alcohol as a preservative. That alcohol can damage nerves, O’Connell said, and the pain injections are made particularly close to nerves in many cases of chronic pain.

O’Connell said patients who received the spinal injections mostly suffer from bulging or herniated disks in their back which can cause sciatica. “These are people that are in severe pain chronically,” he said.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or Also follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).

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