Meningitis Outbreak Trial Begins With Blame Game

By DENISE LAVOIE | January 12, 2017

The former president of a compounding pharmacy blamed for a deadly meningitis outbreak in 2012 put “profits over patients” and ignored repeated warning signs that drugs manufactured by his company were being contaminated by mold, a prosecutor told jurors Monday in a federal racketeering trial.

Barry Cadden, the former head pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Framingham, is charged with causing the deaths of 25 people who died after getting injectable steroids, mainly for back pain, from their doctors.

Compounding pharmacies mix customized medications for patients in the strength and dosage they require.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese told the jury the government would prove that Cadden oversaw the operations of the center and was responsible for making sure industry rules for sterility and cleanliness were followed in the manufacture of the steroids.

Varghese said 17,600 bottles contaminated by mold were shipped to 23 different states in the fall of 2012. A total of 64 people died, many from fungal meningitis, and more than 700 were sickened by the tainted steroids. Varghese said the contaminated drugs caused the “largest public health crisis in this country ever by a pharmaceutical drug.”

“It’s a story of greed, cutting corners and fraud,” Varghese said.

Cadden is charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder under racketeering law and dozens of other felonies. He has pleaded not guilty.

Cadden’s lawyer, Bruce Singal, told the jury that Cadden oversaw the company’s operations, but was not one of the people who worked in the so-called “clean rooms” or mixed the drugs. Regulators found numerous cleanliness and sterility violations while inspecting the clean rooms.

“He is not a murderer and he is not responsible for their deaths,” Singal said.

Singal said prosecutors are trying to blame Cadden for mistakes made by other employees – including pharmacists and technicians – of New England Compounding Center. He showed the jury emails Cadden sent to a company hired to do extra cleaning of NECC’s clean room, reprimanding the company for not following sterility guidelines.

“He cannot be held responsible for all the corporate wrongs,” Singal said.

Varghese told the jury that Cadden showed a “shocking disregard” for the lives of patients.

“He was making millions of dollars off this, but he couldn’t be bothered to do it right,” Varghese said.

The trial is expected to last several months. Glenn Chin, the former head pharmacist is scheduled to go on trial after Cadden. He faces similar charges.

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