Mass. official fired in meningitis probe

Nov. 7, 2012 at 9:55 PM
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BOSTON, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- The Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy director was fired for not acting on a complaint about the pharmacy tied to a deadly meningitis outbreak, an official said.

Dr. Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said in a statement Wednesday that the board's director, James D. Coffey, was terminated after it was found he failed to order an investigation of New England Compounding Center in Framingham -- linked to the meningitis outbreak that sickened 434 people in 19 states and killed 31 -- after receiving a complaint from Colorado.

Coffey received the complaint from the Colorado Board of Pharmacy against NECC on July 26.

"The information shared by Colorado showed that NECC had distributed manufactured drugs to many hospitals in that state between 2010 and 2012 without patient-specific prescriptions, in violation of NECC's Colorado and Massachusetts licenses," Smith said. "The Colorado Board of Pharmacy contacted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which confirmed the NECC was not a licensed manufacturer.

"This information was provided in detail by Colorado to Mr. Coffey in July, which he then forwarded to board attorney Susan Manning and board inspectors. The director of the board is responsible for ordering investigations. Mr. Coffey failed to order an investigation or take any other action on the Colorado complaint. It is incomprehensible that Mr. Coffey and Ms. Manning did not act on the Colorado complaint given NECC's past, and their responsibility to investigate complaints."

Smith said Manning, a member of a bargaining unit, was put on administrative leave pending the final conclusions of the investigation.

NECC shipped 17,000 vials of a preservative-free steroid -- methylprednisolone acetate -- used to treat back and joint pain contained the fungus Exserohilum rostratum. An estimated 14,000 vials of the steroid were used in treatment and patients have become ill about one to four weeks following the injection, but health officials said infections, meningitis and stroke appeared to occur within the first 42 days after receiving the injections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said the NECC steroid administered to patients on or after May 21 was recalled on Sept. 26 and was expected to have the highest risk of infection around Nov. 6.

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