Meningitis Arrests Include 2 in Florida
Massachusetts drug maker – New England Compounding Center (NECC) – was held responsible for the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that made 678 people sick and killed 64 people, including 25 infections and three deaths in Florida.
Each year about 1,000 – 1,200 people get meningococcal disease in the United States. Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness that effects the covering of the brain and the spinal cord. It can cause blood infections, loss of arms or legs, problems with the nervous systems, deafness, and seizures or strokes. About 10-15% of people die from this disease even when treated with antibiotics.
Fourteen people have been indicted over their link to the distribution of contaminated medicine that caused the outbreak. Two of these defendants include Florida’s Winter Park residents and pharmacy owners Carla and Doug Conigliaro.
Co-founder Barry Cadden and senior pharmacist Glenn Chin of NECC face charges including 25 counts of second-degree murder for deaths in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The federal racketeering indictment accused them of “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” that their misconduct would cause deaths. Both could face life in prison if convicted on all charges.
Other defendants were charged with a variety of lesser counts for their roles in what U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called “an unprecedented national tragedy.” The charges include mail fraud, racketeering, conspiracy, contempt, structuring and violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.
Ortiz said NECC cared much more about production and profit over safety and that the pharmacy was filthy with no regard to even the most basic health standards. She also said employees knew what was going on.
More than 750 people in 20 states became ill and almost fifty percent of them ended up with a rare fungal form of meningitis after using infected medicine. Others ended up with joint or spinal infections after receiving steroid injections, mostly for back pain. Sixty-four people died.
Further investigation after the outbreak revealed many possible sources of contamination at the pharmacy, including standing water; dirty equipment; mold and bacteria contamination in the air and on workers’ gloves; using expired ingredients by pharmacists; improper sterilization; failure to test drugs for purity before sending them to hospitals and pain clinics; and falsified disinfection logs by employees. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called it the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine.
USA Today reported Attorney General Eric Hold as saying, “Actions like the ones alleged in this case display not only a reckless disregard for health and safety regulations but also an extreme and appalling indifference to human life. American consumers have a right to know that their medications are safe to use, and this case proves that the Department of Justice will always stand resolute to ensure that right, to protect the American people and to hold wrongdoers accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
NECC was founded in 1998 and after the outbreak was discovered and the siege of litigation began the pharmacy forfeited its license and filed for bankruptcy. Thousands of people have filed claims in bankruptcy court.
The indictment requires defendants to forfeit valuables gained through the alleged racketeering, including: money, retirement accounts, vehicles, a boat, jewelry, luxury clocks, buildings and property.