Drug lab crisis report finds ‘failures’ at Hinton State

The state drug testing lab in Jamaica Plain was closed after former chemist Annie Dookhan was arrested for evidence tampering. (Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro)
The state drug testing lab in Jamaica Plain was closed after former chemist Annie Dookhan was arrested for evidence tampering. Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

A new report by the state inspector general said a former state chemist who tampered with drug evidence samples was a “sole bad actor,” but that there were management failures at the lab.

Inspector General Glenn Cunha released the report on Tuesday. It comes after the 2012 shutdown of Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain, where chemist Annie Dookhan mishandled potentially tens of thousands of drug samples. Dookhan, who faced charges including obstruction of justice and falsely pretending to hold a degree, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to between three and five years in jail.

While it faulted Dookhan as the “sole bad actor” at the lab, it also criticized the management there.

“The management failures of [Department of Public Health] lab directors contributed to Dookhan’s ability to commit her acts of malfeasance,” the report said. “The directors were ill-suited to oversee a forensic drug lab, provided almost no supervision, were habitually unresponsive to chemists’ complains and suspicions, and severely downplayed Dookhan’s major breach in chain-of-custody protocol upon discovering it.”

The report also said the lab lacked uniform protocols, allowing chemists to “create their own insufficient, discordant practices.” Additionally, training of chemists was “wholly inadequate” and the lab’s drug safe was vulnerable.

Besides criticisms, the report offered suggestions for improvements including employing practices to hold supervisors accountable for employees, urging the legislature to mandate that all state forensic labs be accredited and improving training for chemists.

A special attorney appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to review the potentially tainted cases said last year that about 40,000 cases were tied to Dookhan. Because Dookhan’s mishandling cast doubt on the convictions of some drug offenders, many were released while their cases were sorted out and the drug evidence was confirmed.

The drug lab crisis also led to the resignation of a top state health official.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.



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