John Auerbach: State health official resigns amid lab crisis

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley

A top state health official has resigned amid the growing crisis over potentially thousands of drug samples tainted by an allegedly rogue chemist at a Jamaica Plain drug lab.

John Auerbach, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, offered his resignation last weekend, and Gov. Deval Patrick accepted it yesterday.

“The failures at the Department of Public Health drug lab are serious and the actions and inactions of lab management compounded the problem. The Commissioner recognizes that, as the head of DPH, he shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight,” Patrick said in a statement.

A rogue chemist is accused of mishandling thousands of drug samples that were analyzed at the Jamaica Plain lab. The tainted samples mean there is the potential that countless inmates are wrongly imprisoned. State officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys are in the process of reviewing the cases handled by the chemist.

The chemist has previously been identified as Annie Dookhan of Franklin. State police have said that criminal charges are possible and that the Attorney General’s Office is investigating.

The Jamaica Plain lab handled 8,000 drug cases a year and was previously overseen by the Department of Public Health. It was ordered closed by Patrick. State Police took over that lab and others in July after a move by the Legislature.

Auerbach is expected to stay on in his role through a transition period, according to the State House News Service.

State officials announced last week that the bureau chief of the crime lab had resigned, a previously suspended lab director had been fired and that state officials had begun “discharge proceedings” against a third crime lab supervisor, according to the State House News Service.

Kind words

While accepting his resignation, Patrick also praised Auerbach.
   
“For the past six years, John has run a department that improved public health and wellness. His and his colleagues’ commitment to the common good and the people of Massachusetts is unquestioned,” Patrick said in a statement.

DA releasing defendants

Six Suffolk County defendants have had their bails reduced to personal recognizance and were released because of the drug lab crisis thus far.

Prosecutors requested the reductions because they cannot go to trial until the drug lab investigation is complete.

“We didn’t create this crisis, but the state’s prosecutors are taking every step to help correct it,” said Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley.


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