Massachusetts finalizes rules allowing hospitals to share medications to ease shortages

Massachusetts public health regulators Wednesday gave final approval to regulations that allow hospitals to share medications to address drug shortages worsened by the closure of two specialty pharmacies following last fall’s national outbreak of fungal meningitis.

The rules adopted by the state’s Public Health Council, an appointed board of professors, clinicians, and public health advocates, are more sweeping than emergency measures adopted in November at the height of the meningitis outbreak.

The new regulations allow the state health commissioner to grant long-term approval for certain hospitals, such as rural or small health care facilities that are struggling with drug shortages, to receive compounded medications from larger hospitals. Compounded medications are specially prepared to meet the specific needs of a patient.

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State regulations had prohibited hospitals from sharing medications, and the emergency rules approved in November allowed only for temporary waivers of that rule.

Injectable steroids produced at New England Compounding Center have been blamed for 704 illnesses — mostly meningitis cases but also other infections — and 46 deaths in 20 states. The Framingham pharmacy supplied drugs to most hospitals in the state and hundreds across the country before it closed in October. Its larger sister company, Ameridose in Westborough, was a major supplier to hospitals nationwide; it was temporarily shuttered last fall while authorities investigate its sterility practices, and it remains closed. All products from both pharmacies were recalled in September and October.

Hospitals were reporting shortages of certain medications before the outbreak and officials said the shortages have grown more serious with the closures.