The scare over insulin pens has given rise to a legal battle over their use – a lawsuit by three people who contend that they contracted hepatitis at Olean General Hospital.
The three former patients are suing Olean General, as well as several insulin pen manufacturers, alleging that they were infected with hepatitis because of the hospital’s reuse of other patients’ pens.
“Employees of the hospital were misusing the pens by reusing them on multiple patients,” said Donald P. Chiari, a lawyer for the three former patients.
The lawsuit comes several weeks after public health officials in Cattaraugus County reported that at least eight people had tested positive for hepatitis after undergoing screening by Olean General.
The suit accuses Olean General of using the same insulin pens on more than one patient and thereby putting other patients at risk of contracting hepatitis.
“They’re making an allegation they’re not sure of,” Dennis J. McCarthy, spokesman for Olean General, said of lawyers in the case. “They’re just looking for an opportunity.”
McCarthy said there’s no proof that the people who tested positive for hepatitis contracted it through a reused insulin pen.
The suit was filed more than a month after Olean General warned 1,915 former patients that they might have been exposed to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and hepatitis B and hepatitis C through the possible reuse of the pens between November 2009 and Jan. 16 of this year.
Hospital officials suspended its use of insulin pens and urged former patients to get blood tests.
“One man went into the hospital for hernia surgery and came out with hepatitis,” said John V. Elmore, a lawyer for the three former patients.
The hospital ordered the screening after reports of inappropriate insulin pen use surfaced at Buffalo VA Medical Center.
At the time, Olean General said a review of its insulin pen use indicated that the practice of using one patient’s pen on another patient was not permissible but might have occurred at some point.
Hospital officials say that the practice at Olean General was to label insulin pens for each patient and that no evidence exists that a pen was used on more than one patient.
“Making a direct connection back to an insulin pen just doesn’t match,” McCarthy said Tuesday.
The practice of using a single pen on more than one patient conflicts with a 2009 Food and Drug Administration warning and a similar January 2012 alert from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Insulin pens were designed for at-home self-injections by diabetics but, since their introduction in the 1980s, have been adopted by hospitals, as well.