FDA Order Stops Production of Medtronic Pain Pump

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has filed a court order against medical device maker Medtronic ordering it to cease production and distribution of its SynchroMed II pain pumps.

Defects in the surgically implanted pumps, which are used to treat patients with chronic pain, cancer and severe muscle spasms, have been blamed for over a dozen deaths. The devices either lost power or inadvertently injected patients with too much or too little medication. The pump delivers analgesic drugs directly to the spinal fluid of pain patients.

Under the FDA's consent decree with Medtronic, the company will stop production of the SynchroMed II pump at its manufacturing plant in Columbia Heights, Minnesota. Medtronic will also retain a third-party expert to help develop and submit plans to the FDA to correct manufacturing and design problems. The consent decree will remain in effect until the FDA has determined that Medtronic has met all the provisions of the consent decree.

The FDA first approved the SynchroMed II pumps in 2004. Between 2006 and 2013, FDA investigators conducted five inspections at Medtronic’s production facilities, resulting in three warning letters notifying the company of major violations. The violations included inadequate processes for identifying quality control problems, failure to document design changes, and failure to ensure that finished products meet design specifications.

“The FDA expects that all patients will be treated with safe, effective and high-quality medical devices,” said Jan Welch, acting director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “We will continue to stop distribution of devices made by firms that fall short of regulatory requirements.”

Over 200,000 SynchroMed pumps have been implanted worldwide, according to Medtronic, but the devices are not being recalled. Patients who experience a sudden change in their pain levels or hear a device alarm are being urged to contact their physician immediately.

“The agreement does not require the retrieval of any Medtronic products. With this announcement there is no new information to share about the safety and performance of the SynchroMed drug infusion system. Patients with the SynchroMed drug infusion system do not need to change their current course of therapy, have the pump removed, or take any other action as a result of this agreement,” the company said in a statement.

"We are committed to the highest level of quality, and have pursued significant efforts in recent years to enhance the performance of the pump and to address the FDA`s expectations," said Tom Tefft, senior vice president and president of Neuromodulation, which is part of the Restorative Therapies Group at Medtronic.