Meningitis outbreak: What is a compounding pharmacy?

Story highlights

  • The CDC says 14,000 people may have received contaminated injections
  • 170 people have been sickened, 14 have died in outbreak
  • Pharmaceutical compounding is a common practice, experts say
  • Only 1% to 3% of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States are compounded

(CNN)News of a recent meningitis outbreak has sent many Americans into panic mode.

As of Thursday afternoon, 170 people in 11 states had become sick with the noncontagious fungal meningitis; 14 of those have died. Health officials expect those numbers to rise as the investigation continues.
The cases have been linked to injections of contaminated steroid medication made by the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center.
"I'll be skipping my allergy shot," @TheAnchorMom tweeted.
    "Maybe this is crazy but ever since the meningitis outbreak I am scare(d) to get a flu shot even (thinking) it will be contaminated," Lana Flores posted on Facebook.
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday as many as 14,000 people may have received the contaminated steroid injections. Health officials have been able to contact about 90% of those to warn them.
    The idea that a medication created to fix health problems could potentially harm people is frightening, especially when that medication was contaminated in something called a compounding center.
    Typically medications are mass-produced by drug manufacturing companies. So what's a compounding center, and why are we getting our medications from it?
    Compounding pharmacists customize medications to fit an individual's needs. Doctors prescribe these custom medications when the manufactured drug won't work -- for example, when a dosage is too large, or a patient has an allergy to a dye or ingredient in the original product.
    Pharmaceutical compounding is a common practice, said David Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists. In fact, compounding is the way all medications were made up until abo