Feds intercept pharmacist linked to meningitis outbreak as he headed to Hong Kong

It is not often that drug company employees get hauled off an airplane leaving the country and arrested. But it is not often that a drug company's products are tied to the deaths of dozens of people, like the compounded steroids that are believed to have given more than 750 people fungal meningitis in 2012.

The Justice Department says that they intercepted Glenn Adam Chin, 46, as he was boarding a plane for Hong Kong, and arrested him on a charge of mail fraud, a charge that they pointed out could carry up to 20 years in prison. He is the first person tied to the outbreak and the now-defunct New England Compounding Center (NECC) to be arrested. Authorities said the investigation is still ongoing, but they had to grab Chin before he got beyond their reach.

The DOJ says Chin, as a supervising pharmacist at Framingham, MA-based NECC, had technicians label its drugs as sterile and tested when they were far from it. According to Reuters, a document filed by an FDA agent says the drugs were prepared under unsanitary conditions, filled under unsanitary conditions and held under unsanitary conditions. Chin has specifically been accused of giving the OK for drugs shipped to Michigan Pain Specialists. After injecting patients with them, 217 contracted fungal meningitis, and 15 of those patients died.

The case pointed to a big shift in drug compounding, which used to be a niche business that served local doctors requiring specialty drugs, and which was generally overseen by state officials. But as drug shortages became more pronounced, many of them saw an opportunity and became large operations that sold their products nationally, while receiving little oversight. The outbreak led the FDA, which took severe criticism for not having a handle on compounders, to instigate a nationwide crash inspection of what it considered the highest risk operations. It also pushed for new oversight powers but won only limited authority granted in legislation last year.

The case led to the bankruptcy of NECC, leaving victims and their families in doubt of receiving any compensation. But at the end of last year, owners, operators and insurers of the bankrupt compounding pharmacy came to a preliminary agreement to set up a victims' fund that could surpass $100 million.

- here's the DOJ announcement
- read the Reuters story