January 31, 2018 / 12:02 PM / 18 days ago

Pharmacist to be sentenced for role in U.S. meningitis outbreak

BOSTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - A Massachusetts pharmacist is set to be sentenced on Wednesday after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges stemming from his role in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people and sickened hundreds more.

Glenn Chin, the former supervisory pharmacist at New England Compounding Center (NECC), was convicted by a federal jury in Boston in October but was cleared of second-degree murder charges, which would have exposed him to a maximum prison sentence of life.

Prosecutors say that Chin, 49, deserves 35 years in prison for overseeing the dispensing of thousands of substandard and dangerous drugs manufactured in filthy conditions at the now-defunct Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC.

Prosecutors said those drugs included mold-tainted steroids produced at NECC that were then injected into patients, harming at least 778 people in 20 different states.

Chin’s lawyers counter by noting that NECC’s co-founder and former president, Barry Cadden, was sentenced in June to nine years in prison when he went before the same judge, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns.

Lawyers for Chin say that he deserves a third of that, a sentence of just 37 months as he was following Cadden’s directives. Defense lawyers also say Chin had no reason the believe that the steroids were contaminated before they were shipped.

The verdict in Chin’s case came after a separate jury in March found Cadden guilty of racketeering and fraud but similarly cleared him of second-degree murder over the deaths of 25 people.

Prosecutors said that Chin, while supervising the so-called clean rooms in which NECC’s drugs were made, directed staff to ship untested drugs, use expired ingredients, falsify cleaning logs and ignore mold and bacteria.

The fungal meningitis outbreak led the U.S. Congress in 2013 to pass a law that aimed to clarify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ability to oversee compounding pharmacies like NECC that make custom drugs.

Testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said there was “still a lot left to be done” to implement that law and to regulate drug compounders.

“No one wants to see another such outbreak occur,” Gottlieb said.

Beyond Chin and Cadden, lesser charges were filed in 2014 against 12 other people associated with NECC. Three have pleaded guilty. A trial for the remaining nine defendants is scheduled for October. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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