Reality Check: Bad Drug


25 counts of second degree murder - those are just some of the charges facing a Boston business man after tainted drugs his company produced were traced to the deaths of more than 60 people and the sickening of hundreds more.

1,400 miles away, a Gulf Coast woman is watching closely.

Four years after the debacle, she still suffers from those drugs and likely will be dealing with their effects for the rest of her life.

Kristen Townsley of Fairhope will be the first to tell you, she doesn't look sick.

"People look at me and I look perfectly fine. So they never expect me to be this woman who has all these troubles."

But spend some time with Kristen, and the truth of her everyday existence begins to emerge.

"Excruciating pain... I don't know how to explain it."

As a child, Kristen was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, causing painful joins, pain often nearly intolerable. "I cried a lot as a kid over it."

Her journey to find relief now has her paying close attention to a criminal trial taking place in a federal courtroom in Boston, Mass... a trial that will decide the fate of Barry J. Cadden.

Cadden is the former president and head pharmacist at a pharmaceutical laboratory called New England Compound Center, or NECC. It's a lab that takes several prescribed drugs and compounds them for clients... in this case, steroids.

"He ultimately, he got wealthy off of that pharmacy. So why should he not be responsible for every vial that left that pharmacy?"

Kristen Townsley and Barry Cadden have never met. But in 2012, their lives became intertwined after Kristen's doctor in Pensacola recommended steroid injections into her spine as a method to relieve her pain.

"It's a type of injection that goes into the spine. It's a nerve block, basically."

Kristen said the first two seems to make a little difference in the pain. But the third one?

"I do remember the last one I received I remember saying, that hurt more than normal and I don't think I want to do this anymore..."

It wasn't long after that injection that Kristen said she received a call from her doctor. The steroid injection she had received might be contaminated. She'd need a spinal tap.

"And just like that, my world flipped."

That spinal tap would reveal the steroid Kristen received WAS contaminated. She had contracted Spinal Meningitis. That same week in Boston, news was breaking that others, hundreds of others, were also getting sick. And the medicines were coming from NECC, owned and operated by Barry Cadden. Soon, people were dying- more than 60 people.

"Right now, federal prosecutors in Boston are telling jurors that conditions at Barry Cadden's compounding pharmacy were sub par... that steroids compounded there had been contaminated with mold... mold that was then injected into the bodies of patients. Kristen Townsley of Fairhope was one of them."

How could this happen?

Unlike regular pharmaceutical companies which are regulated by the federal government, compounding pharmacies are under individual state control. Shortly after the NECC debacle, the U-S Food and Drug Administration decided to spot check about two dozen compounding pharmacies , including one in Birmingham and one in Homewood, Alabama. Widespread safety violations were found at many the facilities, including both Alabama locations.

As a result, in 2014, congress passed the Drug Quality and Security Act which put large scale, interstate compounders, like NECC, under the watchful eye of the FDA. It also set some standards for tracking and tracing compounded products,

Kristen survived her brush with NECC's tainted steroid, but she's reminded of the ordeal several times a day... because of this little device.

"And you just turn it on..."

Two bouts of meningitis and an abscess on her spine caused by the tainted steroids deadened the nerves in her bladder.

"That's basically a pacemaker for your bladder."

She will need this device for the rest of her life.

"You just keep chugging along... just just keep picking up the pieces and hoping that nothing else gets in the way."

And her advice for anyone undergoing treatment for any medical procedure? Ask for vial numbers, the name and amount of everything a doctor puts in your body. It's your money, your right... and your life.

"Choose your doctors carefully. Choose your doctors carefully because your health is one of the most important things you'll ever have and you can't get it back once its gone."