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NECC pharmacist arrested at Logan Airport

By Tim Sandle     Sep 9, 2014 in Crime
Framingham - The pharmacist who oversaw the sterile compounding at NECC was arrested at Logan Airport as he was about to board a plane for Hong Kong. He is charged with knowingly releasing a contaminated steroid product which caused fifteen deaths.
Glenn Adam Chin, 46, worked at the New England Compounding Center (NECC) based in Framingham, Massachusetts. The pharmacist was allegedly involved with the release of contaminated methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) vials from the NECC facility. The medicine is used to treat pain and swelling that occurs with arthritis and other joint disorders.
Avid readers of Digital Journal will be familiar with the tragic NECC saga. In summary: a contaminated steroid product (some 17,000 vials) was distributed across 23 U.S. states as a cure for arthritis. Unfortunately, the product was contaminated with a fungus, and the fungus caused meningitis in many of the people that the steroid was injected into. The reason for the contamination occurring was due to a series of failures to follow good manufacturing practices, including basic manufacturing area hygiene and with not sterilizing items intended to be sterile.
The tainted drugs triggered the most deadly meningitis outbreak in U.S. history. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that over 700 people nation-wide were diagnosed with fungal meningitis or other serious fungal infections. At least 64 deaths were confirmed.
NECC went onto face a flood of lawsuits. It suspended operations and was declared bankrupt in late 2012. Following the incident, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broader authority (although not as strong as some thought was required) to oversee compounding pharmacies. These facilities are relatively small operations (compared with major pharmaceutical firms) engaged in the mixing of drugs for individual patients.
Towards the end of 2013, the NECC creditor’s fund put aside $100 million to a compensation fund for victims and their families. However, into 2014 the criminal investigation continued and this led to the charge against Glenn Chin being brought in September.
Chin supervised four pharmacists and 10 pharmacy technicians who were working in so-called “clean rooms”. Prosecutors, the Boston Herald reports, allege that Chin was personally responsible for compounding steroid stock solutions, including on the day hat the contaminated batch was manufactured. Furthermore, the FDA’s arrest affidavit indicates that Chin is personally oversaw improper sterilization of equipment, and inadequate testing of what was a supposedly sterile medication. Moreover, to conceal these unsafe practices, Chin is alleged to have instructed the pharmacy technicians to mislabel the medication to indicate it was properly sterilized and tested.
The U.S. attorney’s office and the Justice Department’s consumer protection branch have been investigating New England Compounding since a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak began in fall 2012.
The case against Chin relates to one shipment of the contaminated vials (there are other cases on-going). On Aug. 7, 2012, Michigan Pain Specialists based in the town of Brighton ordered 400 vials of the material. NECC sent the requested vials, each of which was labelled “sterile and fit for human use”.
Over the next two months, doctors at the Michigan clinic injected 625 patients with the compound, the complaint alleges. After receiving the injections, 217 patients contracted fungal infections; fifteen of them died.
This is contested by Chin’s lawyer, according to the Boston Globe. Chin and his defense case do not dispute that the contaminated medication was compounded whilst Chin was in charge. However, the defense case states that investigators have never determined the cause of the contamination. The lawyers representing Chin also argue that his arrest was a publicity stunt and that Chin had good grounds (a family wedding) for wanting to travel to Hong Kong (it was simply coincidental that the wedding was to take place around the same time that his arrest warrant was issued).
Following his arrest, Chin, who lives in Canton, pleaded not guilty. The charge against him is “mail fraud”, The Washington Post reports. This relates to his alleged role in shipping a batch of MPA that was supposedly safe for human use to the Brighton pain center. He was released on $50,000 unsecured bond, and is under house arrest. He agreed to surrender his passport and must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. If convicted, Chin faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Chin is the first person to be charged in the investigation. The owners of the company have yet to be prosecuted.
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