Tainted drugs: When medicine makes patients sicker


This is a Kaiser Health News story.

The Food and Drug Administration is meant to examine all factories, overseas and home, that produce medication for the U.S. market. But a KHN evaluate of 1000’s of FDA paperwork — inspection information, remembers, warning letters and lawsuits — reveals how medication which can be poorly manufactured or contaminated can attain customers.

Despite the jackhammer-like rhythm of a mechanical ventilator, Alicia Moreno had dozed off in a chair by her 1-year-old’s hospital mattress, when a health care provider woke her with some unhealthy information: The widespread stool softener her son, Anderson, was given months earlier had been contaminated with the bacterium Burkholderia cepacia.

Suddenly, Anderson’s rocky course made medical sense. B. cepacia was the identical uncommon bacterium mysteriously discovered within the boy’s respiratory tract, briefly taking him off the record for a coronary heart transplant. The similar bacterium resurfaced after his transplant and mixed with a flu-like sickness to contaminate his lungs. He’s been on a ventilator ever since.

Sydney Lupkin/KHN
The Moreno household makes the four-hour drive dwelling from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., the place medical doctors checked Anderson’s lungs, kidneys and different techniques in back-to-back appointments.

The tainted over-the-counter medicine, docusate sodium, routinely prescribed to just about each hospitalized affected person to avert constipation, precipitated Anderson to endure severe and harmful life-threatening accidents, a lawsuit filed by his household alleges. The drug was ultimately recalled, however solely after a Texas hospital employees seen an uptick in B. cepacia infections, prompting a six-month investigation that led again to the contaminated drug and its Florida manufacturing plant.

“Something that was supposed to help him hurt him,” Alicia Moreno mentioned.

Since the beginning of 2013, pharmaceutical firms based mostly within the U.S. or overseas have recalled about 8,000 medicines, comprising billions of tablets, bottles and vials which have entered the U.S. drug provide and made their technique to patients’ medicine cupboards, hospital provide closets and IV drips, a Kaiser Health News investigation exhibits. The remembers symbolize a fraction of the medicines shipped annually. But the flawed merchandise contained every part from harmful micro organism or tiny glass particles to mildew — or an excessive amount of or too little of the drug’s lively ingredient.

Over the identical interval, 65 drug-making services recalled practically 300 merchandise inside 12 months of passing a Food and Drug Administration inspection — as was the case with the stool softener, in line with a KHN evaluation of recall notices and inspection information saved by the FDA.

Those remembers included greater than 39,000 bottles of the HIV drug Atripla laced with “red silicone rubber particulates,” practically 37,000 generic Abilify tablets that have been “superpotent,” and practically 12,000 bins of generic Aleve (naproxen) that have been really ibuprofen, in line with the recall knowledge KHN examined.

The medicine alleged to have sickened Anderson Moreno significantly contaminated not less than 63 different individuals in 12 states, in line with reports by the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug was made at a PharmaTech plant in Broward County, Fla. That similar plant handed an FDA inspection even whereas it was making bacteria-laced merchandise, in line with a KHN evaluate of the inspection information.

GRAPHIC: Drug Recalls Following FDA InspectionsLydia Zuraw/KHN
GRAPHIC: Drug Recalls Following FDA Inspections

PharmaTech didn’t reply to KHN’s requests for remark. A lawyer for the drugmaker filed a movement to dismiss the lawsuit in April, nevertheless it was not granted. In follow-up courtroom information, PharmaTech has denied claims towards it.

Like different FDA commissioners earlier than him, Scott Gottlieb has referred to as his company’s drug oversight program the “gold standard” for security and effectiveness.

But veteran trade marketing consultant John Avellanet, who has educated FDA inspectors, questions how efficient the FDA’s drug plant inspections really are. “It’s so easy” for FDA inspectors to overlook issues as a result of they’re working with complicated regulatory phrases and requirements which can be typically a long time old-fashioned, Avellanet mentioned.

Just how typically persons are sickened or die from tainted medication is subsequent to unattainable to find out. No authorities company tracks circumstances except they’re linked to a serious outbreak amongst hospital patients. And sudden, seemingly random sicknesses in disparate locations are notoriously arduous to hyperlink to a tainted drug. That’s partly as a result of drugmakers do not should expose which merchandise are made wherein manufacturing crops, since that’s considered proprietary data.

The consequence: Even somebody who buys medication for a serious hospital cannot monitor down the place a probably harmful product got here from, mentioned Erin Fox, who purchases medicines for University of Utah Health hospitals.

“Patient safety should come first,” she mentioned, including that the KHN evaluation signifies “our drug quality is probably not what we think it is,” and calling it a “scary” actuality. “Something does need to change if this is happening this many times and we’re having patients receiving contaminated products.”

GRAPHIC: Why Is Tracking Bad Drugs So Difficult?Lydia Zuraw and Sydney Lupkin/KHN
GRAPHIC: Why Is Tracking Bad Drugs So Difficult?

The FDA declined to be interviewed for this story, however responded to written questions.

“While the FDA would prefer that no drug be distributed that later is recalled, we do not think that a recall indicates a failure of FDA inspection and surveillance programs,” FDA spokesman Jeremy Kahn mentioned in an electronic mail. He mentioned inspectors “may not uncover all issues or practices that may eventually result in a problem leading to a recall” and that “not all recalls are the result of poor manufacturing practice.”

The PharmaTech story

“Lucky fin, lucky fin, lucky fin,” Alicia Moreno, 30, cheered as she untangled her now 3-year-old son’s stroke-weakened arm from a sweater and his transportable ventilator within the again seat of the automobile for one more four-hour drive to see medical doctors in Ann Arbor, Mich. In the Disney film “Finding Nemo,” Nemo’s father calls the younger fry’s smaller fin his “lucky fin.”

While her husband drives, Alicia pulls out a transparent plastic case of syringes and watches the clock on the dashboard. Anderson wants about two dozen completely different medicines each 24 hours, and Alicia administers them through a port in his stomach at designated occasions.

PHOTO: Anderson Moreno needs about two dozen different medicines every 24 hours, says his mother, Alicia. She administers them via a port in his belly at designated times.Heidi de Marco/KHN
Anderson Moreno wants about two dozen completely different medicines each 24 hours, says his mom, Alicia. She administers them through a port in his stomach at designated occasions.

It wasn’t at all times like this. Anderson appeared healthy till his 6-month checkup in May 2016, his mom mentioned. Partway by way of the examination, the Morenos rushed their child to a close-by hospital and realized he was in coronary heart failure and would want a transplant to outlive. That’s the place he obtained the contaminated stool softener, his attorneys allege. The hospital the place Anderson ultimately obtained his transplant confirmed through electronic mail that Anderson examined optimistic for a similar pressure of B. cepacia concerned within the outbreak traced again to PharmaTech’s contaminated drug.

In July, in line with the household, Anderson began to have problem respiration and his temperature spiked to 106 levels, which landed him within the ICU, the place medical doctors and nurses packed him with ice and rushed to seek out the trigger. Their exams turned up optimistic for B. cepacia, a bacterium present in untreated water that doesn’t sometimes make wholesome individuals sick. Anderson’s standing on the transplant record was placed on maintain, and his coronary heart situation worsened. He was positioned on a machine that transferred blood outdoors his physique, oxygenated it and pumped it again in.

Anderson lastly bought a coronary heart transplant in November 2016, however 4 days after medical doctors closed his chest, his fever was again and his lungs saved getting worse, requiring extra sophisticated equipment. Tests got here again optimistic for a flu-like virus and B. cepacia, in line with the hospital.

“Where did he get it?” his dad and mom pleaded. At the time, nobody knew.

PHOTO: Alicia Moreno spends the day with her son, Anderson.Heidi de Marco/KHN
Alicia Moreno spends the day together with her son, Anderson.

How tainted medication slip by way of the cracks

The FDA is meant to examine all factories, overseas and home, that produce medication for the U.S. market. But a KHN evaluate of 1000’s of FDA paperwork — inspection information, remembers, warning letters and lawsuits — gives perception into the methods poorly manufactured or contaminated medication attain customers: Inspectors miss severe hazards. Drugmakers fail to fulfill requirements even after the FDA has taken enforcement motion. Hundreds of crops haven’t been inspected for years, if ever.

Last July, for instance, the FDA announced the primary of many voluntary remembers of the blood stress medicine valsartan as a result of some tablets comprise a cancer-causing impurity referred to as N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). They would later discover a comparable carcinogen, N-nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), in valsartan capsules. Over the prior two years, investigators had detected worrisome issues in two abroad factories concerned within the manufacturing of the drug.

PHOTO: Alicia Moreno spends the day with her son, Anderson.Heidi de Marco/KHN
Alicia Moreno spends the day together with her son, Anderson.

In 2017, FDA investigators discovered rust, chipping paint and deteriorating tools at a plant run by Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co. in Zhejiang, China. Plant staffers weren’t correctly testing and investigating “anomalies” of their medication, dismissing problematic take a look at outcomes, the FDA mentioned at the moment. Inspectors additionally discovered “black metallic particles” and different issues in some unidentified medication. The FDA inspected the plant in July 2018 after complaints about NDMA from a facility additional down the drug provide chain. The FDA put the power on import alert in late September and issued a warning letter in November detailing deficiencies, together with “Failure of your quality unit to ensure that quality-related complaints are investigated and resolved.”

At a facility of Hetero Labs in India, in 2016, FDA inspectors discovered coloured and white residue in elements, among the manufacturing facility’s tablets have been twice as thick as others, and staff have been shredding paperwork in the midst of the evening. The FDA issued a warning letter to the corporate on account of the inspection.

Plants making medication for U.S. customers are alleged to be inspected each few years, in line with a risk-based system. However, up to now decade greater than 2,500 services, each overseas and home, have gone greater than 5 years with out an FDA drug-quality inspection, a KHN evaluation discovered. The FDA has no drug-quality inspection information over the previous decade for greater than 1,200 home crops and practically 400 overseas crops, excluding people who make animal drug merchandise, in line with the evaluation. Gottlieb mentioned in December that he hopes to clear the backlog of uninspected drug services by the tip of September 2019.

At finest, the inspections are a snapshot in time, and contain taking a look at processes somewhat than evaluating the medication themselves, mentioned drug-quality specialist Dinesh Thakur, who has labored for drugmakers. The inspections would possibly happen whereas the power is making solely one among a dozen or so medication that it often manufactures.

“The implicit assumption … is that if the [manufacturing] processes are sound, the product will be of good quality,” mentioned Thakur, who raised the alarm about quality-control issues at generics drugmaker Ranbaxy, leading to a 2013 responsible plea and a $500 million settlement. “Your data tells us this is not true.”

Many inspections, he mentioned, are “stage-managed,” in order that factories cross on the appointed day, however “once the inspectors leave, it’s a completely different story.”

David Gortler, a former FDA medical officer, mentioned most drug plant inspections contain trying over paper information and trusting that they’re actual, as a substitute of randomly testing medicines.

“Anybody can write down anything on a piece of paper,” mentioned Gortler, who’s now a marketing consultant at FormerFDA.com. He added that FDA inspectors aren’t reprimanded — and even instructed — in the event that they’ve handed a plant that issued a recall shortly thereafter.

PHOTO: A tray of syringes sits on the kitchen countertop. Anderson Moreno needs about two dozen different medicines every 24 hours, his mother says.Heidi de Marco/KHN
A tray of syringes sits on the kitchen countertop. Anderson Moreno wants about two dozen completely different medicines each 24 hours, his mom says.

A fortunate break solves a thriller

The contaminated stool softener alleged to have sickened Anderson Moreno was one among many medication recalled by crops shortly after they handed an FDA inspection. The micro organism was detected solely after an outbreak of illness — and after a great deal of medical sleuthing.

More than 1,000 miles away from Anderson’s ICU mattress in Michigan, employees at Texas Children’s Hospital’s pediatric ICU in Houston had identified three circumstances of B. cepacia in a single week in February 2016, in line with a 2017 medical journal article printed in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. It was odd as a result of there had been no circumstances the earlier 12 months.

Hospital employees members launched into a months-long investigation and by July had recognized 24 victims, whose median age was below 2 years previous. Patients had the identical pressure of the micro organism of their blood, their respiratory tracts, their urine or their stool, in line with the article.

Samples matched the micro organism present in liquid docusate, the stool softener, the researchers wrote.

The hospital alerted the CDC and different public well being officers of its findings. The CDC would ultimately identify 63 confirmed and 45 suspected severe B. cepacia infections in 12 states tied to the contaminated drug.

A 36-day FDA inspection of PharmaTech in Davie, Fla., that ended Aug. 9, 2016, revealed that the micro organism was in water used to scrub tools and make liquid merchandise. FDA inspectors concluded that the bacterium made it into the power’s medication beginning in 2015 and was nonetheless current within the water.

Anderson was handled with the stool softener in May 2016. His dad and mom filed swimsuit in September 2017 in PharmaTech’s dwelling of Broward Country, Fla., towards the drugmaker and others within the drug provide chain, alleging the drug was contaminated and precipitated him grievous injury. PharmaTech, which didn’t return KHN’s requests for remark, unsuccessfully filed a movement to dismiss and has denied all expenses in a subsequent submitting.

PHOTO: Burkholderia Cepacia Outbreak, 2016 TimelineLydia Zuraw and Sydney Lupkin/KHN
Burkholderia Cepacia Outbreak, 2016 Timeline

A 9-month-old lady in Pittsburgh who had obtained the stool softener died on May 4, 2016, in line with a lawsuit her household filed in July 2017 within the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Her mom realized in regards to the drug recall by probability and requested the hospital whether or not her deceased daughter obtained the contaminated drug, her lawyer instructed KHN. The household filed expenses towards PharmaTech and others within the drug provide chain in a wrongful dying lawsuit. The courtroom rejected PharmaTech’s motions to dismiss and strike, and the drugmaker denied legal responsibility in a subsequent submitting. In November 2017, a lawyer representing PharmaTech in that wrongful dying case instructed the Orlando (Fla.) Sun Sentinel that it’ll defend itself towards the allegations and couldn’t remark additional “because of the ongoing nature of litigation.”

According to federal information, FDA inspectors had an opportunity to catch the contamination throughout their March 2016 inspection, however the PharmaTech plant handed with no citations. PharmaTech CEO Ray Figueroa saluted the inspection ends in a press release, calling it “a testimony to PharmaTech’s commitment to world-class quality.”

How issues can go improper

The FDA has issued 1000’s of enforcement actions towards drug crops over time, citing security violations, issuing warning letters and blocking imports from sure overseas crops. In uncommon circumstances, the FDA may seize drug merchandise and has achieved so 23 occasions up to now decade. The final drug seizure was greater than two years in the past, in line with FDA information.

In an emailed assertion, FDA chief Gottlieb mentioned the FDA is “taking new steps” to determine issues earlier than they happen and it’s “not shy” to make use of its powers to mitigate dangers.

But the system may be stymied or gamed and the FDA’s enforcement talents are restricted. For occasion, it doesn’t have the ability to problem a compulsory recall, and manufacturing citations don’t include fines.

Many circumstances come to gentle solely when a whistleblower sounds an alarm.

Thakur, the Ranbaxy whistleblower, mentioned officers in different international locations generally tip off crops about “surprise” FDA inspections. And FDA inspectors typically should depend on translators employed by the drug firms, mentioned Avellanet, who has been a drug facility inspection marketing consultant for greater than 20 years.

At Nippon Fine Chemical in Japan, staff stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” to maintain an FDA official out in December 2015, in line with an enforcement letter despatched to the plant and published online.

Less than a 12 months later, Vikshara Trading & Investments Ltd. in India allegedly faked a employee strike to dam the doorway to the plant, in line with an FDA enforcement doc that described the producer’s “false statements.” When inspectors have been ultimately allowed in, the lights have been saved off.

“Our investigator had to perform parts of the walkthrough in the dark, using a flashlight,” the FDA warning letter reads, including that an unidentified powder was “scattered” and “caked on the floor” in manufacturing areas and detected on completed drug merchandise.

Two former staff have filed a whistleblower swimsuit towards Gilead Sciences, alleging it lied to the FDA about utilizing a drug-manufacturing facility in South Korea, when it was really utilizing an unregistered facility in China. According to the civil grievance filed in September 2014 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the ingredient produced at Synthetics China and utilized in HIV medication Truvada and Atripla contained “glass-like shards,” “black rubber-like particles,” “plastic-like particles,” “small stone or pebble-like particles” and “metal shards.”

The whistleblowers alleged Gilead’s Alberta, Canada, plant was tasked with sieving contaminants and serving to to hide the place the ingredient was made.

They mentioned one batch of the ingredient was contaminated with arsenic, chromium and nickel. Another had a harmful bacterium referred to as Bacillus cereus, in line with the whistleblowers’ swimsuit. Still, Gilead launched the product and didn’t provoke a recall, the whistleblowers alleged.

Years after the whistleblowers stopped working for Gilead, the drugmaker issued two voluntary remembers of HIV medication in 2014, about seven months aside. Both remembers cited contamination with pink silicone rubber particulates.

Gilead declined to remark. Gilead has fought the lawsuit, alleging that because the authorities knew of the allegations and didn’t penalize it by denying drug approvals or funds, the swimsuit couldn’t transfer ahead. In 2015, a federal decide dismissed the case, however a panel from the ninth District Court of Appeals reversed that call in 2017. Now the Supreme Court may hear it; in April 2018, it invited the solicitor common to file a quick,“expressing the views of the United States.” The Justice Department filed a quick in November, saying pursuing the lawsuit is “not in the public interest.”

Since the FDA has little energy to pressure a drugmaker to repair issues or problem remembers, FDA inspectors typically flag the identical violations repeatedly. A KHN evaluation discovered that over the previous decade 70 drug crops — most of them home — have been penalized for a similar violation not less than 4 occasions. And greater than a 3rd of these crops has issued a recall sooner or later.

Altaire Pharmaceuticals in New York was cited 5 occasions by FDA inspectors for insufficient “procedures for sterile drug products.” In 2013, it recalled 363,746 bottles of generic eye drops bought at CVS, Target and Walmart over sterility issues — particularly mildew — as a result of the preservative within the product “may not be effective” by way of the expiration date. Overall, Altaire was instructed to appropriate 15 violations not less than twice.

KHN tried to contact Altaire Pharmaceuticals, however the firm didn’t reply.

Kept in the dead of night

About a 12 months after the preliminary PharmaTech recall in 2016, the FDA introduced one other recall for a similar medication and the identical bacterium: B. cepacia. When Erin Fox noticed the second recall, she thought it was a mistake. The alert mentioned to keep away from medication made by PharmaTech below a number of labels “and possibly [products from] other companies.” What different firms? Fox puzzled. How might they not know which of them?

Doctors on the hospital requested Fox to take away all PharmaTech-made merchandise from the cabinets, however due to lax labeling legal guidelines, she mentioned, she couldn’t make certain which these have been. Drug labels need to include solely the producer, the packer or the distributor — not all three — so the medical doctors advised she name PharmaTech and ask what else it manufactures and for whom.

“Of course,” Fox mentioned, “they wouldn’t tell us.”


To analyze the inspections and remembers of crops that manufacture medication, KHN began with two Food and Drug Administration databases of drug remembers: one at OpenFDA, and one on the FDA’s recall knowledge dashboard. The first offered particulars about medication, dates and portions recalled, and the second offered a recalling plant ID, referred to as an FEI. We used them each to create a extra full recall database.

The FEIs served as a bridge between the remembers knowledge and two inspection knowledge tables. Both tables contained inspection dates and functions, however one listed inspection grades and the opposite contained a listing of citations. Combining inspection and recall databases allowed us to seek out the latest inspection at every plant that preceded a recall, and to find out its grade. It additionally allowed us to depend repeat citations and decide whether or not crops that obtained them ever initiated a recall.

To decide whether or not crops had not been inspected up to now decade, we in contrast our inspections knowledge to the Drug Establishments Current Registration Site database, which accommodates all registered working crops. We excluded crops that made merchandise for animals and people who didn’t explicitly “manufacture” medication, in line with the database. The FDA has mentioned there could also be a delay in including inspections to its database after they’re accomplished.

Our knowledge is present as of early October 2018. We included solely inspections categorized as “drug quality assurance” inspections all through the evaluation.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit information service masking well being points. It is an editorially unbiased program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

This article was syndicated from abcnews