Prosecutors seek 35-year term in deadly meningitis outbreak

By DENISE LAVOIE Markets Associated Press

Prosecutors say the co-founder of a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to a deadly nationwide meningitis outbreak should be sent to prison for 35 years for showing "an unconscionable disregard for the lives of the patients."

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Barry Cadden will be sentenced Monday on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and fraud in the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed more than 60 people and sickened more than 700 others in 20 states.

Cadden's lawyers say prosecutors are trying to demonize Cadden and to "transform the jury's verdict into a murder case," despite the fact that he was acquitted of second-degree murder charges. The defense is recommending a 2½- to 3-year prison term.

During Cadden's trial, prosecutors said he skirted industry regulations on sterility in an effort to push production and make more money.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the illnesses and deaths from the outbreak to medical steroids made by the now-closed NECC of Framingham. Most of the victims received the injectable steroids for back pain. Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee were hit hardest.

In a sentencing memo filed in court Thursday, Cadden's lawyer said Cadden failed to properly supervise pharmacists who worked in the so-called "clean room" at New England Compounding Center, but said he did not knowingly ship contaminated drugs.

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"As the jury found, Mr. Cadden is not a murderer. Nor is he the person the government portrayed him as at trial," attorney Bruce Singal wrote in his sentencing memo.

Prosecutors said the steroids became contaminated because of improper sterilization, testing, cleaning and disinfecting. Despite the defense claims, "the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that Cadden was well-aware of these deficiencies in NECC's production processes, and the potential danger it could cause to patients, but chose to ship the deficient drugs anyway," Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese wrote in the government's sentencing memo.

In their memo, prosecutors included excerpts from victim impact statements written to the court by relatives of people who were sickened or died from the contaminated steroids. Many of the letters describe constant pain and other chronic illnesses people who received the injections continue to face.

Greg Shuff wrote about his wife, Rachelle, a mother of two who was 44 when she received steroid injections in Elkhart, Indiana, while trying to recover from a car accident.

"Her suffering has broken everything we had into pieces," he wrote.

"She is up out of bed at the most 6 hours a day and that is a struggle. She cries when the pain becomes so extreme and intolerable. ... She has been robbed of her life, my life and our beautiful children's life."

The case focused attention on compounding pharmacies, which differ from ordinary drugstores in that they custom-mix medications and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors. After the outbreak, Congress increased federal oversight of compounding pharmacies.

NECC filed for bankruptcy after getting slapped with hundreds of lawsuits. NECC and several related companies reached a $200 million settlement with victims and their families.

Glenn Chin, a supervisory pharmacist who ran the clean rooms where drugs were made, is scheduled to go on trial in September. He has pleaded not guilty.