Pharmacist in deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak disregarded safety -prosecutor

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 19, 2017 11:57 AM

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts pharmacist charged with murder for his role in a deadly 2012 U.S. meningitis outbreak showed "shocking" disregard for safety standards, a federal prosecutor said at the start of the trial on Tuesday.

Glenn Chin, a former supervisory pharmacist at New England Compounding Center, oversaw the production of tainted steroids in filthy conditions, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese told a federal jury in Boston.

As he delivered his opening statement, Varghese displayed pictures of 25 people who died after being injected with steroids the now-defunct NECC produced that contained mold.

He told jurors how Chin recklessly failed to ensure the company's drugs were produced in sanitary conditions.

According to Varghese, Chin directed staff in NECC's so-called clean rooms, where the medications were made, to skip cleaning despite the presence of insects, mice and mold.

He did this in order to keep up with demand to ship products to hospitals nationally, the prosecutor said.

"His actions demonstrated a shocking - a shocking -disregard for human life," he said.

An attorney for Chin, who has pleaded not guilty, is expected to make his own opening statement later in the day.

Chin, 49, was charged in 2014 with second-degree murder under a racketeering law along with Barry Cadden, a co-founder and former president of Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC.

Cadden was sentenced in June to nine years in prison after he was found guilty of racketeering and fraud charges but cleared of murder.

Chin faces up to life in prison if convicted. His lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, has argued Cadden was more responsible for NECC's problems.

Prosecutors say 778 people nationwide were sickened after being injected with contaminated steroids from NECC, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

The outbreak led Congress in 2013 to pass a law that aimed to clarify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ability to oversee large compounding pharmacies which make custom drugs.

Chin began working at NECC in 2004 and was promoted in 2010 to a position in which he oversaw all aspects of production in its two clean rooms.

Lesser charges were filed against 12 other people. Three have pleaded guilty, while a federal judge dismissed charges against two defendants in October 2016. Charges remain pending against the other seven.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and W Simon)