Pharmaceutical Compounding: a History, Regulatory Overview, and Systematic Review of Compounding Errors

J Med Toxicol. 2021 Apr;17(2):197-217. doi: 10.1007/s13181-020-00814-3. Epub 2020 Nov 2.


Introduction: Medications are compounded when a formulation of a medication is needed but not commercially available. Regulatory oversight of compounding is piecemeal and compounding errors have resulted in patient harm. We review compounding in the United States (US), including a history of compounding, a critique of current regulatory oversight, and a systematic review of compounding errors recorded in the literature.

Methods: We gathered reports of compounding errors occurring in the US from 1990 to 2020 from PubMed, Embase, several relevant conference abstracts, and the US Food and Drug Administration "Drug Alerts and Statements" repository. We categorized reports into errors of "contamination," suprapotency," and "subpotency." Errors were also subdivided by whether they resulted in morbidity and mortality. We reported demographic, medication, and outcome data where available.

Results: We screened 2155 reports and identified 63 errors. Twenty-one of 63 were errors of concentration, harming 36 patients. Twenty-seven of 63 were contamination errors, harming 1119 patients. Fifteen errors did not result in any identified harm.

Discussion: Compounding errors are attributed to contamination or concentration. Concentration errors predominantly result from compounding a prescription for a single patient, and disproportionately affect children. Contamination errors largely occur during bulk distribution of compounded medications for parenteral use, and affect more patients. The burden falls on the government, pharmacy industry, and medical providers to reduce the risk of patient harm caused by compounding errors.

Conclusion: In the US, drug compounding is important in ensuring access to vital medications, but has the potential to cause patient harm without adequate safeguards.

Keywords: Compounding; Contamination; Error; Pharmacy; Regulation; Toxicology.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Compounding / history*
  • Drug Contamination / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug Contamination / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Industry / history*
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug / history*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / history*
  • United States


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations