It's been over two years since a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds. Nearly 750 people were infected by tainted steroids, leading to the deaths of 64 people across several states. The outbreak eventually led investigators to Framingham, home of the now-defunct New England Compounding Center Inc. (NECC), who produced the tainted steroids.
Now, both a co-founder of NECC and the supervisory pharmacist are facing the most serious charges, including second-degree murder, for causing the deaths of 25 patients through a "wanton and willful disregard" of the risks involved. They face a maximum sentence of life in prison. The other twelve people charged in the expansive 131-count racketeering indictment face a variety of charges, including fraud, and the interstate sale of adulterated drugs.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said this is the largest criminal case brought in this country over contaminated medicine. Ortiz called the facility filthy, with the supervisors and employees failing to comply with basic health standards. "Production and profit were prioritized over safety," said Ortiz. As a result of this case, Congress acted to increase oversight of compounding pharmacies such as NECC, which mix medications in bulk for medical use.
Reports of the facility and the actions of those involved are shocking. Mold and bacteria were found in the air, on equipment, and on the workers' gloves. Ingredients were not properly sterilized, were at times expired, anddrugs were not tested before sending them out. Employee logs were falsified to make it appear as if rooms had been disinfected when they never were. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Delery, the defendants demonstrated, "not only a reckless disregard for federal health and safety regulations, but also an extreme and appalling disregard for human life."
NECC was investigated for manufacturing steroidal shots which contained a black mold. According to the prosecutor's office, both Cadden and Chin were aware that the steroid, methylprednisolone acetate (MPA), would be injected into patients, and if it were not sterile, the patient could die. The pharmacy stopped operations, and gave it's license up to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy on October of 2012. The company was subsequently hit with hundreds of lawsuits filed by victims and victim's families, before it filed for bankruptcy.
Barry Cadden and Gregory Conigliaro, brothers-in-law, co-founded the company in 1998. While Cadden faces the second-degree murder charges, Conigliaro and two of his family members face other charges including transferring over $30 million in assets among different bank accounts after the pharmacy went into bankruptcy. Cadden is accused of instructing his sales team to "falsely represent to customers that NECC was providing the highest-quality compound medications.
Glenn Adam Chin, of Canton, Massachusetts, was a supervisory pharmacist with NECC. Chin's lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, said Chin feels remorseful for everything, but that he never intended to cause harm to anybody. Although, on September 4, 2014, Chin was arrested by federal authorities at Boston's Logan International Airport on one count of mail fraud. He was attempting to board a plane to Hong Kong when he was taken into custody. According to Ortiz, "Senior NECC pharmacists knew that, despite the filthy conditions at NECC, the drugs that they made were not properly tested for sterility."