March 16, 2017 / 10:10 AM / 5 months ago

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

Barry Cadden (L), the former president of New England Compounding Center, enters the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. March 16, 2017.Nate Raymond

(This March 16 story corrects last paragraph to say there are 12 other defendants, not 10)

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal prosecutor urged jurors on Thursday to find the co-founder of a now-defunct Massachusetts pharmacy guilty of murder over the deaths of 25 people during a meningitis outbreak in 2012 caused by contaminated drugs sold by his company.

Barry Cadden, 50, ran the New England Compounding Center in an "extraordinarily dangerous way," in unsanitary conditions that led to the steroids that it produced being tainted with mold, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan told a federal jury in closing arguments in Boston.

Strachan said Cadden knew people could die if they were injected with contaminated steroids, yet ignored the rules, leading to an outbreak that sickened 751 people in 20 states, including 64 who died.

"It was preventable, but it happened, because this man, Barry Cadden, decided to put profits ahead of patients," she said.

But defense attorney Bruce Singal said that while the outbreak was a "terrible tragedy," prosecutors had not established that Cadden acted intentionally and knew people could die if they were injected with the steroids.

He asked jurors why Cadden would have expected any deaths following a 6-1/2-year period during which the Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC shipped 859,125 vials without any issues.

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

"This is indeed a tragic death case, but it is not a murder case, and there is a big, big difference between the two," Singal said.

Cadden faces 96 counts and is accused of 25 racketeering acts of second-degree murder.

He is one of two former NECC pharmacists to be accused of murder in connection with the outbreak, and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The outbreak 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 uncovered bugs, birds and other unsterile conditions at an NECC affiliate.

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

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.

Supervisory pharmacist Glenn Chin, who also is accused of second-degree murder, will be tried separately.

Lesser charges were filed against 12 other people. Three have pleaded guilty, while a federal judge dismissed charges against two defendants in October. Charges remain pending against the other seven.

Editing by Bill Trott, Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish

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