September 21, 2017 / 1:40 AM / 2 years ago

'Shocking' disregard for safety in U.S. meningitis case -prosecutor

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal prosecutor on Tuesday accused a Massachusetts pharmacist charged with murder for his role in a deadly 2012 U.S. meningitis outbreak of showing a “shocking” disregard for patients’ lives, while his lawyer argued the man was no killer.

Glenn Chin, a former supervisory pharmacist at New England Compounding Center, oversaw the production in filthy conditions of tainted steroids, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese said at the start of the man’s trial in Boston federal court.

Those drugs led to an outbreak that sickened 778 people nationally, including 76 who died after being injected with steroids containing mold produced by the now-defunct Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC, according to prosecutors.

Varghese told jurors that Chin, 49, recklessly failed to ensure the compounding pharmacy’s drugs were produced in sanitary conditions in order to keep up with demand from hospitals nationally for its products.

Varghese said Chin directed staff in NECC’s so-called clean rooms, where the medications were made, to skip cleaning despite the presence of insects, mice and mold.

“His actions demonstrated a shocking - a shocking - disregard for human life,” he said.

But Stephen Weymouth, a lawyer for Chin, said there was no proof he was guilty of second-degree murder.

“He didn’t do anything to kill these people,” Weymouth said, urging jurors to look past the emotions the case raises.

Weymouth said blame instead lies with Barry Cadden, NECC’s co-founder and former president. Cadden was sentenced in June to nine years in prison after he was found guilty of racketeering and fraud charges but cleared of murder.

“He called all the shots, he told people what to do,” Weymouth said. “No one could tell Barry Cadden what to do.”

Chin and Cadden were among 14 people indicted in 2014 for their roles in the outbreak and the only two to be accused of second-degree murder over 25 deaths. The murder charges were brought under a racketeering law.

The outbreak led Congress in 2013 to pass a law that aimed to clarify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ability to oversee large compounding pharmacies.

Chin faces other charges including mail fraud. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Lesser charges were filed against 12 other people. Three have pleaded guilty, while a federal judge dismissed charges against two defendants in October 2016. Charges remain pending against the other seven.

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