Employees and owners of the compounding pharmacy at the center of a fungal meningitis outbreak have been indicted on charges ranging from fraud to 2nd degree murder. Many of the charges stem from cases in Tennessee.
Prosecutors say “production and profit were prioritized over safety” at New England Compounding Center. The 131-count indictment shows compounded steroids were shipped to obviously fake patients with names like “Method Man” and “Wonder Woman.” NECC is also accused of falsifying cleaning logs in their lab and failing to institute a recall, even after mold was found.
NECC co-owner Barry Caden and the supervising pharmacist Glenn Adam Chin are both charged with murder in several states, including Tennessee. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz says the pair was aware these drugs were going to be injected into people’s spines to relieve back pain.
“They did this, knowing that injecting contaminated steroids into a person’s central nervous system or other sensitive body part would was likely to cause death,” Ortiz said at a press conference Wednesday.
In total, 16 Tennesseans died in the outbreak, 2nd only to Michigan. Seven of those deaths a resulting in murder charges.
An attorney for the pharmacist calls the murder charge “a bit of an overreach,” telling the Associated Press that Chin feels remorse for what happened.
It has taken two years for prosecutors to reach this point, but Ortiz said she wanted to get it right. Attorneys from the Justice Department traveled to many states to conduct interviews with victims and their families. Nationwide, more than 750 people were sickened. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 64 died in the outbreak.
“This is a complex case. This is a huge case,” Ortiz said. “It is not the kind of case where you snap your fingers and it’s done.”
The Justice Department is also using the case to draw attention to compounding pharmacies, which operate in somewhat of a regulatory gray area between state and federal authorities.
Joyce Branda, acting assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division, says people should be able to get injections without fear of death.
“These are everyday activities,” she said. “Not Russian roulette.”