14 arrested, charged in meningitis outbreak

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2012 file photo, a car sits in front of the New England Compounding in Framingham, Mass. Two co-founders and 12 other former employees of the company were arrested at their homes Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Tainted steroids manufactured by the pharmacy were blamed for a fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people across the country. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

BOSTON (AP) — Fourteen owners or employees of a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy were arrested Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people nationwide and was traced to tainted drug injections.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the New England Compounding Center, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of patients in several states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” that their actions would cause death or great bodily harm.

More than 750 people in 20 states were sickened and 64 died after they contracted fungal meningitis and other illnesses from tainted steroids made by the company. The steroids given were for medical purposes, not for body building; most received the injections for back pain.

Cadden and Chin are charged with causing the deaths of patients in several states, including Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana.

The others charged in an indictment unsealed Wednesday face charges ranging from mail fraud to the introduction of adulterated and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.

Among the accusations in the indictment are that Cadden, Chin and others used expired ingredients in drugs, failed to properly sterilize drugs and failed to test drugs to make sure they were sterile.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cited numerous unsafe practices at the compounding pharmacy, which custom mixed medications and supplied them directly to hospitals and doctors. Compounding pharmacies are not subject to the same tight regulations and federal oversight as retail pharmacies.

An FDA agent also said pharmacy technicians were instructed to lie on cleaning logs, showing rooms were properly cleaned when they had not been.

The contaminated medication was discovered in the fall of 2012. Regulators later found a host of potential contaminants at the company’s Framingham plant, including standing water, mold, water droplets and dirty equipment.

A message left for Chin’s lawyer was not immediately returned. Cadden’s lawyer was not immediately identified.

Gregory Conigliaro, another co-founder, was among the 14 arrested at their homes around the state, U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman Christina DiIorio-Sterling said.

A home number for Cadden rang busy, and a woman who answered the phone at a listing for Conigliaro said it was the wrong number.

Chin, a former supervisory pharmacist, had been charged with mail fraud in September.

All those arrested were expected to make an initial court appearance later Wednesday.

The pharmacy gave up its license and filed for bankruptcy protection after it was flooded with hundreds of lawsuits filed by victims and their families.

NECC was founded in 1998 by brothers-in-law Cadden and Conigliaro. Cadden, who is married to Conigliaro’s sister, Lisa, earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Rhode Island. Conigliaro is an engineer.

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