Deadly clean room run with ‘depraved disregard for human lives’

A US pharmacist has been found not guilty of 25 murder charges over the deadly 2012 fungal meningitis incident

Glenn Chin, who was the supervisor of a pharmacy in Framingham, Massachusetts when it sent out tainted medicines blamed for up to 76 deaths, has been found guilty of mail fraud, racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.

He was also found guilty of false labelling in connection with the outbreak of fungal meningitis which affected over 700 people in 2012.

However, he was found not guilty of 25 counts of second-degree murder over the outbreak.

The case highlights the damage which can be inflicted by badly compounded drugs, stakeholders say.

Mr Chin was charged after the New England Compounding Center sent injections of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate out to patients across the United States.

Of the 753 patients who became ill after receiving the injections, 64 died, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated. The number of deaths has since been revised upwards.

Mr Chin manufactured three lots of contaminated MPA, which comprised more than 17,000 vials.

Prosecutors said he ignored the pharmacy’s drug formulation worksheets and standard operating procedures, instead sterilising the drug “substantially less” than the recipe required.

He also completely failed to validate or verify the sterilisation process.

Prosecutors said that as the supervising pharmacist who oversaw all of NECC’s drug compounding operations, Mr Chin directed the shipping of drugs before receiving test results confirming their sterility, and told pharmacy technicians to mislabel drugs in order to conceal this practice. 

He directed the compounding of drugs with expired ingredients, including chemotherapy drugs that had expired several years prior, they said.

Mr Chin prioritised drug production over cleaning, directed the forging of cleaning logs, and “routinely ignored mould and bacteria” found inside the clean rooms.

Mr Chin and his co-conspirators also employed a pharmacy technician whose licence had been revoked, for more than three years.

This technician was allowed to compound highly sensitive cardiac drug solutions.

Mr Chin also made efforts to conceal the technician’s presence inside the clean room from state regulators. 

Mr Chin had been portrayed by prosecutors as the “right hand man” of Barry Cadden, the NECC’s former co-owner and head pharmacist, who was cleared in June 2017 of charges of second-degree murder over the deaths.

Mr Cadden was, however, convicted of 57 charges, including those relating to mail fraud and racketeering.

Acting US Attorney William D. Weinreb said in a statement that “Mr Chin ran NECC’s clean room operations with depraved disregard for human lives”.

“As a licensed pharmacist, Mr Chin took an oath to protect patients, but instead deliberately violated safety regulations, causing the largest public health crisis caused by a pharmaceutical drug in US history,” Mr Weinreb said.

“Time and time again, Mr Chin made dangerous decisions: he decided to cut corners, to improperly sterilise and test drugs, to mislabel drugs, to skip cleanings and ignore contamination in the clean rooms, and to endanger patients’ lives.

“Now, the jury has found that Mr Chin must be held accountable for the consequences of his decisions.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that “We’ve seen the tragic impact poorly compounded drugs can have on patients. Above all else, we must continue to make protecting the public health a top priority by doing all we can to ensure that the compounded drugs that patients rely on are of high quality”.

Mr Chin was facing life in prison over the charges, but now faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of US$250,000 (AUD$326,025), as well as restitution on the racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud charges. He will be sentenced in January.

The Boston Globe reports that his attorney plans to file a notice of appeal and that Mr Chin is “remorseful for what happened”.

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