Pharmacy tied to meningitis outbreak ‘greedy’ and ‘sloppy’

A tainted steroid injection produced by the New England Compounding Center, as seen in a video aired on "60 Minutes." (Photo courtesy CBS News)
A tainted steroid injection produced by the New England Compounding Center, as seen in a video aired on “60 Minutes.” (Photo courtesy CBS News)

Two former employees of the New England Compounding Center, the Framingham compounding pharmacy linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak, are speaking up.

Lab technician Joe Connolly told CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday that the NECC was more concerned with making money than the safety of its medications.

“The underlying factor is that the company got greedy and overextended and we got sloppy, and something happened,” Connolly said.

48 people died and more than 700 developed fungal meningitis after receiving tainted steroid injections manufactured by NECC. The company recalled all products and closed down in September 2012 when the outbreak was first detected. Several company officials could face criminal charges.

Compounding pharmacies and their medications are not subject to FDA approval because each prescription is supposed to be made for an individual patient. However, Connolly and an unidentified salesman say NECC was manufacturing medications on a wide scale.

The salesman, who asked not to be identified, told the news program that about 3,000 hospitals and clinics ordered drugs. He alleged that NECC knew fraud was occurring, because orders were placed using fake patient names.

“Bart Simpson, Homer Simpson… those ones did raise red flags, and we [were] told to call our client back, and say, ‘Hey, give us different names,’” the salesman said. “The follow-up names would be like a John Doe, Jane Doe, Bill Doe, you know, Jane Smith, Bill Smith, et cetera.”

The salesman said Barry Cadden, NECC’s owner and president, didn’t allow state inspectors to have access to the sales team, in order to conceal the scope of the business.

The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy has oversight over compounding pharmacies. Despite prior complaints about sterility, the NECC passed inspection in 2011.

Cadden invoked the Fifth Amendment when subpoenaed to testify before Congress and did not participate in the “60 Minutes” interview. His lawyer told the program that Cadden doesn’t know how the steroids were contaminated.

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