Meningitis outbreak pharmacist not guilty of murder

The pharmacist at the centre of a deadly meningitis outbreak in the United States has been found not guilty of murder

Barry J Cadden was the co-owner and head pharmacist at the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts when he distributed tainted drugs across the US, causing more than 750 people to become ill and 64 to die in 2012.

Mr Cadden has been found not guilty of all counts of second-degree murder, but was convicted on 57 of the 96 charges he faced, the Boston Globe reports, including conspiracy, fraud and racketeering. He faced charges relating to 25 patients.

The Globe calls the case, “one of the worst pharmaceutical scandals in US history”. It was the largest public health crisis in the US involving a pharmaceutical product and resulted in new, stricter regulations on compounding pharmacies.

The fungal meningitis outbreak related to shipments of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate which were manufactured in unsafe conditions at the Center.

Prosecutors claimed that the Center’s lax safety standards resulted in mold, bacteria, flies and oil “seeping up through the floor”.

Jurors said that Mr Cadden had run the Center “like a criminal enterprise,” the Globe reports.

According to a statement by the US Attorney’s office, Mr Cadden “directed and authorised the shipping of contaminated MPA to NECC customers nationwide.

“In addition, he authorised the shipping of drugs before test results confirming their sterility were returned, never notified customers of nonsterile results, and compounded drugs with expired ingredients.

“Furthermore, certain batches of drugs were manufactured, in part, by an unlicensed pharmacy technician at NECC.

“Cadden also repeatedly took steps to shield NECC’s operations from regulatory oversight by the FDA by claiming to be a pharmacy dispensing drugs pursuant to valid, patient-specific prescriptions.

“In fact, NECC routinely dispensed drugs in bulk without valid prescriptions. NECC even used fictional and celebrity names on fake prescriptions to dispense drugs such as ‘Michael Jackson,’ ‘Freddie Mae’ and ‘Diana Ross’.”

While he will not face a life sentence due to being found not guilty on the murder charges, Mr Cadden still faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the mail fraud and racketeering counts.

Mr Cadden will be sentenced in June. Meanwhile, NECC supervisory pharmacist Glenn A. Chinn also faces second-degree murder charges in relation to the outbreak.

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