By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Federal authorities have made the first arrest in the probe of the Massachusetts drug compounding firm blamed for the deaths of at least 64 patients.
Arrested at Boston's Logan International Airport Thursday was Glenn A. Chin, 46, one of the pharmacists who worked at the New England Compounding Center, the now shuttered drug compounding firm blamed for the deaths and illnesses suffered by over 750 patients. The record breaking outbreak of fungal meningitis became public in September of 2012.
Chin a resident of Canton, a Boston suburb, was charged with one count of mail fraud. Federal officials said they made the arrest when they learned Chin was trying to flee the country.
An affidavit filed by a federal agent in the Chin case states that the number of victims is actually higher than the the official count issued nearly a year ago by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Noting that the CDC stopped revising its count in 2013, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Special Agent Benedict Celso wrote in a footnote that based on his personal knowledge, "the total number of patients (sickened) has continued to increase as have the total number of patients who have died."
The affidavit specifically cites multiple cases of victims in Michigan and Tennessee. Six Tennessee victims are mentioned while 217 patients at a Michigan clinic were stricken.
According to the complaint Chin caused contaminated vials of a spinal steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, to be issued and shipped in interstate commerce with the certification that it was injectable, when in fact, it was contaminated with a lethal fungus.
According to the complaint and a U.S. Justice Department press release, Chin was a supervising pharmacist for NECC.
The affidavit states that Chin supervised four other pharmacists who performed sterile drug compounding and that he was personally involved in preparing some of the vials of steroids later injected into unsuspecting patients.
He also supervised technicians and staffers and instructed them "to mislabel medication" and to "fraudulently complete cleaning logs."
The affidavit states that Chin was responsible for labels stating the steroids were injectable, "meaning that the medication was sterile and fit for human use."
The affidavit states that among the unsafe practices Chin oversaw were "improper sterilization and improper testing of supposedly sterile medication."
There have been recent indications that the lengthy federal probe was stepping up as FBI agents questioned some of the victims of the nationwide outbreak. Those victims included Joan Peay of Nashville who was sickened in the initial outbreak and suffered a lengthy relapse a year later.
Peay said she was glad to learn of Chin's arrest and added that she hoped federal authorities are also keeping a close eye on other NECC officials.
If convicted on the charge, Chin could face a jail term of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. He was arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston and will remain under home confinement pending further court action.