In what’s being called the “biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is flabbergasted at the negligence of a Massachusetts-based pharmacy, whose employees are now being held responsible for the deaths of a large number of people since 2012.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Delery, the pharmacy’s employees showed ”not only a reckless disregard for federal health and safety regulations, but also an extreme and appalling disregard for human life.”
Since 2012, a silent outbreak of fungal meningitis has stricken over 750 people in 21 states. Sixty-four people have been pronounced dead since then, unable to recover from the debilitating fungal infection. What did all these people have in common? They received steroid injections from their local hospital. According to new federal allegations, it turns out that the pain medications were tainted with the fungal meningitis, and they all came from one place — a pharmacy in Massachusetts.
Filthy pharmacy distributes contaminated medicine to hospitals around the country
The New England Compounding Center (NECC) of Framingham, Massachusetts, is now shuttered. The compounding pharmacy was responsible for custom-mixing drugs in bulk. Hospitals and doctors received the medications by the boxful and trust their integrity and cleanliness. Since 2012, hospitals across the nation received countless cases of tainted drugs from the “filthy” pharmacy. Several pain specialists were unaware that they were injecting their patients with fungus-laced epidurals.
Now, federal prosecutors are bringing charges against 14 employees from the now-shuttered NECC drug distribution center. Prosecutors are using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is rarely used against a pharmaceutical company.
The investigation finds that NECC workers used dirty gloves tainted with bacteria and mold; they were too lazy to sterilize their equipment; they used expired ingredients; and they bypassed drug purity standards. When the pharmacy’s rooms were inspected, they were not disinfected properly; the employees falsified log sheets to make it seem like the rooms were cleaned. Now, their negligence is coming back to haunt them.
NECC Co-founder Barry Cadden and fellow pharmacist Glenn Adam Chin now face racketeering charges for practicing with “wanton and willful disregard” that ultimately led to the deaths of 25 patients in seven states. Chin is being charged with second degree murder. The other employees were charged with fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.
US Attorney Ortiz said that the NECC pharmacy didn’t even comply with basic health standards and that all employees worked in the “filthy” environment without saying a thing or making any changes. The business model there, according to Ortiz, showed that, “Production and profit were prioritized over safety.”
One victim, John Nedroscik, a 64-year-old man from Howell, Michigan, came down with a fungal infections after getting steroid injection for discs in his back. His case, tied directly to dirty medicine from NECC, ultimately caused an abscess on his spine that put him down for nearly a month.
Chinn’s lawyer pleads that none of this went on intentionally, saying his client, “feels hugely remorseful for everything that’s happened — for the injuries and the deaths — but he never intended to cause harm to anybody.”
Even so, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, which usually defends its own, painted the Massachusetts compounding pharmacy as rogue, unprofessional and even criminal, stating, ”the profession operates in a highly regulated environment and compounding pharmacists adhere to, and even exceed, these regulations every day. Today’s announcement is an important milestone in seeing that justice is served.”