The death toll in an ongoing meningitis outbreak has hit five, with 35 sick in six states, the AP reports. What's more, hundreds or thousands could be at risk across 23 states after receiving potentially tainted steroid injections, and health providers are rushing to warn them of the danger. A New York Times analysis calls the crisis "a calamity waiting to happen." It has been traced to a Massachusetts "compounding pharmacy"—an institution that makes drugs not approved by the FDA; the Times wonders why so many pain clinics would depend on a risky mixture.
Part of the answer is that such pharmacies often have lower prices than top drug firms, and can provide products that aren't readily available elsewhere. (Although in the latest case, the steroid in question was available from more mainstream sources.) The law is fuzzy on the pharmacies, which are "tolerated" by the FDA. Facing weaker safety regulations, they have been at the center of contamination cases before, including another involving spinal injections in 2002 that left one dead. Click through for the Times' full analysis.