Trial concluding for pharmacist charged in deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak

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[March 16, 2017]  By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday in the trial of the co-founder of a now-defunct Massachusetts pharmacy charged with murder and racketeering for his role in a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people across the United States.

Barry Cadden, 50, is the one of two former pharmacists at the New England Compounding Center accused of second-degree murder in an outbreak that sickened 751 people in 20 states. Prosecutors called the outbreak the largest U.S. public health crisis involving a pharmaceutical drug.

During his two-month trial in Boston federal court, prosecutors accused Cadden of directing the shipment of steroids often prescribed for back pain that were tainted with fungal meningitis, even though he knew they were made in unsanitary conditions at NECC's Framingham, Massachusetts, facility.

Cadden has pleaded not guilty to 96 criminal counts, including 25 racketeering acts of second-degree murder. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

The case led to strict regulations on compounding pharmacies, which mix drugs but previously were treated with a lighter hand than registered drug manufacturers. Inspections after the outbreak turned up bugs, birds and other unsterile conditions at an NECC affiliate.

NECC filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and in 2015 it agreed to pay $200 million to victims and creditors, a sum that included funds seized from Cadden.

Prosecutors accused Cadden of prioritizing profits over patients, earning millions of dollars without concern about who was using his drugs.

In total, NECC in 2012 sent out 17,600 vials of steroids called methylprednisolone acetate contaminated with mold to 23 states, all labeled to indicate they were sterile and all in bags carrying Cadden's initials, prosecutors said.

Defense lawyers did not dispute that people died after being injected with the steroid but said Cadden had nothing to do with their deaths.

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Barry Cadden is seen in this 2000 booking photo by released by Wrentham Police Department in Wrentham, Massachusetts, U.S. on March 7, 2017. Courtesy Wrentham Police Department/Handout via REUTERS 

They described the contamination as an isolated incident and said NECC had shipped out 852,000 vials in the 6-1/2 years leading up the outbreak without any deaths.

Supervisory pharmacist Glenn Chin also is accused of racketeering acts of second-degree murder and will be tried separately.

Lesser charges were filed against 10 other people. Three have pleaded guilty, including NECC's former majority owner and her husband, who were accused of financial crimes related to the case.

A federal judge dismissed charges against two defendants in October. Charges remain pending against the other five.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

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