Pharmacist Gets 9-Year Prison Term in Deadly Meningitis Outbreak

BOSTON — The tainted injection left Rachelle Shuff with pain that requires 15 medications to manage and, she said, perhaps only two years to live.

Scott Shaw and Anna Shaw Allred had to bury their mother, Elwina Shaw, who at 77 was healthy, they said, until she got a tainted injection of a steroid and a debilitating illness followed.

And Penny Laperriere said she had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after watching her husband, Lyn, suffer a painful death as a result of a tainted steroid injection.

The injections were routine, often used to treat back pain. But, tainted with mold, the authorities have said, they instead sickened more than 700 people with fungal meningitis and other infections, eventually killing dozens.

 

After people affected by the faulty injections told of their grim experiences before a judge on Monday, Barry J. Cadden, the former co-owner and head pharmacist of the company that produced the injections, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Mr. Cadden had been convicted this spring on federal racketeering and fraud charges related to the outbreak, which experts have described as among the worst medicine-related public health crises in recent times.

“I will die imprisoned in my body, slowly and in anguish, and he should die in prison,” Ms. Shuff, who described the grueling regimen of treatment she is still undergoing, told Richard G. Stearns, a United States District Court judge here.

For his part, Mr. Cadden stood before the judge and apologized publicly for the first time since the illnesses began to emerge in 2012. “It breaks my heart to read about how painful their deaths were,” he said.

The situation unfolded as a slow-motion disaster, first with a few unusual meningitis cases that soon piled up — particularly in Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana. Investigators linked the cases to the New England Compounding Center, housed inside a squat brick building in Framingham, Mass., and said there were untested and nonsterile drugs as well as expired ingredients. Workers told of extensive mold.

Health officials said 13,000 people could have been injected with the contaminated medication, and many were left to cope with an excruciating wait to see whether they would develop symptoms. By October 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 753 cases of illness and 64 deaths; in court here on Monday, prosecutors said the death toll was even higher: 76. Among eight survivors who spoke in court on Monday, some said they still lived with pain and had received little money from a fund intended to aid the victims.

Prosecutors said Mr. Cadden had run the pharmacy like a criminal organization, and charged him under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, better known for being used to prosecute members of the mob. Mr. Cadden was convicted this year of more than 50 counts of mail fraud and racketeering, but acquitted of 25 counts of second-degree murder and other charges.
An aberration on the verdict slip, however, has raised new questions about the trial outcome. The jurors seemed to write that most of them had wanted to convict Mr. Cadden on many of the murder charges and some had wanted acquit him — suggesting that they fell short of the unanimous agreement required of a jury’s decision.

Prosecutors urged the judge to consider the issue while determining Mr. Cadden’s sentence, and requested a 35-year prison term.

“Mold was blooming in his clean room and he did nothing about it,” said Amanda Strachan, a prosecutor. “He put tens of thousands of people at risk after those fungal blooms because he just didn’t care.”

But Mr. Cadden’s lead defense lawyer, Bruce Singal, asked for a three-year term. Mr. Singal noted that Mr. Cadden was convicted on mail fraud — not on more serious charges — and said he should be sentenced for the convictions alone.

“It’s a tragic, tragic outbreak,” Mr. Singal said, but he added, “Mr. Cadden stands here acquitted of all 25 counts of murder.”

The case drew attention to the loosely regulated world of compounding pharmacies, which mix drugs at lower prices than large drug manufacturers. After the outbreak, Massachusetts passed stronger rules on safety and quality. Congress passed new federal regulations, but experts said they made key provisions voluntary, meaning the prevention of another outbreak cannot be assured.

“We’ve done very little to make sure that this won’t happen again,” said Kevin Outterson, a law professor at Boston University.

Some of the people who were sickened or had relatives who died urged Judge Stearns to give the maximum allowable punishment as a deterrent to other compounding pharmacies.

Ms. Allred, the daughter of Elwina Shaw, said, “I would have liked to see him get longer.” But, she added, “nothing they give him would have ever brought her back.”

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