, Newburyport, MA

Local News

December 31, 2012

Warren win tops list of year's biggest political stories



A nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis landed on the doorstep of public health regulators in Massachusetts after the source of the infections was traced to the Framingham-based New England Compounding Center that had been manufacturing injectable steroids for widespread distribution in violation of its state pharmacy license. To date, the contaminated steroids have led to 620 cases of infection in 19 states, contributing to 39 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Though no one in Massachusetts was treated with the contaminated drugs, the public health crisis exposed wide gaps in the federal and state regulatory structure for compounding pharmacies and led to the issuance of emergency regulations by Gov. Deval Patrick to improve reporting and start more random spot checks of pharmacies located in Massachusetts. The Board of Registration in Pharmacy also got an overhaul in its membership, and state lawmakers embarked on a series of oversight hearings to explore the reasons why NECC was able to operate undetected as a compounded drug manufacturer in violation its state license. The stage is now set for lawmakers to pursue changes in state laws governing pharmacies in the session that starts on Wednesday.


In 2012, Annie Dookhan became a name that won’t quickly be forgotten. Described as a “rogue chemist,” Dookhan admitted to State Police investigators to tampering with drug evidence while employed as a chemist at the Hinton Laboratory in Jamaica Plain from 2003 to 2012, doctoring results to produce false positives on drug samples and failing to test at all other samples that were used to convict thousands of drug offenders. A grand jury in December indicted Dookhan on 27 counts of altering drug evidence, perjuring herself on the witness stand and falsifying her resume. She pleaded not guilty. But while Dookhan’s fate plays out in the court system, state officials are dealing with the fallout from the fiasco that has jeopardized as many as 34,000 cases the chemist worked on. So far, more than 160 inmates have been released to the streets, and the governor and Legislature are looking at a hefty bill to pay for the investigative and legal fees mounting to pay prosecutors and defense attorneys for their time sifting through and resolving each case, not to mention the cost of providing re-entry services for inmates given get-out-of-jail free cards. Attorney David Meier has been hired to sift through the records to make sure each impacted defendant gets their day in court, and Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach was forced to resign his job as a result of Dookhan’s actions. While Dookhan’s motives remain unclear, lawmakers and the Patrick administration are searching for answers as to why this chemist was able to get away with faking test results for as long as she did.

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