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Meningitis outbreak: Tips for covering specialty pharmacies


From compounding pharmacies to pain management, the meningitis outbreak provides story angles for reporters.

The meningitis outbreak , which now affects more than 90 people and has caused seven deaths, leads to several worthwhile angles for financial journalists.  According to MedPage today, the cause may be contaminated steroids and a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts is being looked at as a possible source of the medication used in back-pain procedures.

There are two main business areas here you can pursue even if patients in your state or region are not directly affected by the outbreak:  The specialty-pharmacy industry and the business of pain.

Perhaps, like me, your readers were unaware of how widespread the compounding pharmacy sector is.  I thought pretty much all drugs these days were mass-produced and came from Big Pharma factories, but apparently not.  According to the Professional Compounding Centers of America, the industry’s professional association, there are some 3,900 of these compounding pharmacies nationwide — that is, pharmacies that prepare customized medications.

Some of the compounding is the simple change of flavor so that a medicine is more palatable, but the association also lists a number of other specialty compounding areas, including anti-aging, hormone replacement therapy, dental, hospice, sports medicine, veterinary and pain-management.  For example, the site says, compounding pharmacists can combine drugs so that people in hospice don’t need to take as many pills, or perhaps use a topical approach to administer medication through the skin for those who have difficulty swallowing.

It might be interesting to find a compounding pharmacy near you — the PCCA offers a handy ZIP code-searchable database to find out about trends in personalized medications, technology, safety procedures, employment and other facets to this below-the-radar-screen health care sector.   And in light of the current crisis, here’s an article about the surprisingly light regulation of these made-from-scratch pharmaceuticals.

The flip side of the meningitis story is the business of pain management.  According to some 2011 market research, the market for pain therapeutics in the U.S. is expected to grow to $60 billion a year by 2015.  From cancer to sports injuries to chronic pain conditions, Americans are seeking help at what appears to be an expanding; if you cover health care you might take a look at the business model of for-profit pain management clinics, and talk with health providers and health insurers about costs, trends in types of pain and diseases, ethics and fraud.

Disability and workers compensation insurers also may have statistics about pain-related claims and costs.  And if you cover technology, biomedical businesses or small business, look into clinics’ use of new technology like laser and infrared devices to treat pain — even my veterinarian’s office is offering this for pulled muscles and other pet ailments. The American Academy of Pain Medicine’s journal may also offer insight into therapies and techniques.

In Featured, Health care, Insurance, Story ideas.

Comments (2)

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  1. John Voliva, R.Ph. says:

    Just a quick correction to your article “Meningitis outbreak: Tips for covering specialty pharmacies”, the correct industry professional association for compounding pharmacies is the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists (IACP). Their website is iacprx.org and their media contact is Dagmar Climo. She can be reached either by phone at 281-933-8400 or email at dagmar@iacprx.org.

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