Question: I’ve had lower back pain for years. It has recently gotten much worse and I was considering getting a spinal steroid shot. Of course, the recent meningitis cases from the drug being contaminated has me very scared. Do you think these shots are now safe?
Dr. Hibberd’s answer:
Injectable medications are safe when proper manufacturing and sterile mixing techniques are used. This is precisely why we have Food and Drug Administration approval for injectable and oral medications for human use. Unfortunately, the recent scare of meningitis from a lab providing customized and preservative-free mixes for individual use highlights the importance of a sterile and safe environment for drug production.
This mixing lab was actually run by a pharmacist who had allegedly violated FDA policy, was not FDA-inspected and was supposed to be providing individual mixes in just the same way that your neighborhood pharmacy used to do in the local pharmacy of 50 years ago.
This should serve as a rude awakening to all of us. Customized medical mixtures may be less expensive but may not be as safe as the commercially available manufacturer brands. We know that manufacturers have strict sterility in manufacturing environments and they are subject to frequent inspections.
Spinal steroid shots are used for symptom control only, and are not curative. They serve as time bridges, while a natural healing process takes place so you can avoid an inappropriately premature surgical option. If you are considering it, perhaps you do need to research your risk/benefit ratios with a doctor you can trust.