Meningitis Outbreak: Pharmacist Charged with Killing More Than 70 People On Trial

Glenn Chin leaves the federal courthouse in Boston. The former pharmacist is charged with second-degree murder for a meningitis outbreak in 2012 and could face life in prison. Brian Snyder/REUTERS

The supervisor involved in overseeing a specialty compounding pharmacy that produced tainted drugs responsible for a 2012 meningitis outbreak is headed to trial on Tuesday. Glenn Chin oversaw the now-shuttered New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts. According to the Associated Press, he could receive a life sentence for second-degree murder if convicted.

In 2012, the drugs—a type of steroid injection—were responsible for the deaths of 76 people and illness in hundreds of others, according to The Boston Globe. The New York Times reported in March that a total of 732 people were sickened by the injections. Lawyers settled a class-action suit for $200 million in 2015 for victims and their families.

In June, a judge sentenced the head executive of the pharmacy, Barry Cadden, to nine years in prison on racketeering and fraud charges. According to a report in January on WBUR, Cadden and Chin are the only employees charged with murder, though 12 other former employees of the company face charges that include fraud, criminal contempt, misleading regulators, falsifying records, preparing drugs in unsanitary conditions and shipping mislabeled drugs.

Ahead of the trial, Chin's lawyer Stephen Weymouth told the Globe that he was "just a little concerned that the judge and jury might be a little more harsh on Glenn Chin because he was doing the work in the clean room."

The Globe says during Cadden's trial, he tried to transfer the blame to Chin. Weymouth argues that the co-founder is more to blame for the deaths because Chin was merely "a puppet" who complied with requests in order to keep his job. The Globe also reports that former prosecutor David Schumacher says Chin is guilty because he was the one who was actually doing the work to produce the drugs.

In September 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state and local health departments launched an investigation of a multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections among patients who received the preservative-free injections from the pharmacy. The CDC's investigation included patients diagnosed with fungal meningitis (a form of meningitis that is not contagious) and spinal and joint infections.

On Friday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency is developing new guidelines to encourage compounding pharmacies to register under the Drug Quality and Security Act, passed in 2013 as a result of the meningitis outbreak, according to Reuters. Under the new guidance, compounding pharmacies that register with the FDA may produce formulary drugs in large quantities without individual prescriptions for patients, to sell directly to hospitals and doctors. Compounding pharmacies that don't register with the federal agency are regulated by the state and permitted to produce only made-to-order drugs for individual patients with a prescription.

"I want to move more of them into a compliant space, and I'm willing to work with compounders and the broader community to find some regulatory accommodation that gets more of them into a compliant space," Gottlieb told Reuters.