The Washington Post

Meningitis victims hope for criminal charges

Dirk Thompson III doesn’t hold out much hope that he and the 750 other victims in a nationwide meningitis outbreak will ever see much, if any, compensation for the deaths and illnesses caused by tainted steroids.

He hopes to find justice another way — if criminal charges are brought against the principals of a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that made the steroid injections blamed for the fungal meningitis outbreak.

A federal grand jury in Boston has been investigating the New England Compounding Center for more than a year. A separate grand jury in Minnesota also has been conducting an investigation.

“They have to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Thompson, 58, of Howell, Mich., who was hospitalized for 38 days with meningitis after receiving a steroid injection for back pain. “They were totally irresponsible.”

Since the discovery of the contaminated steroids, 751 people in 20 states have developed fungal meningitis or other infections, including 64 who died. Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana were the hardest-hit states.

Federal prosecutors have declined to comment on the investigation, but the FBI recently asked anyone who received one of the tainted injections to fill out a questionnaire detailing their illnesses and stating whether they suspect that another medication distributed by NECC caused harm to them or their family members.

The FBI, which has also sent agents to visit victims, set a Nov. 30 deadline for victims to submit the surveys online or to mail them to its health-care-fraud squad in Boston.

It is unclear whether the company or its executives will face criminal charges. Several lawyers who represent victims in lawsuits say health-care companies charged with selling contaminated drugs often reach settlements with the federal government and agree to pay large fines. But the NECC case is different because of the large number of deaths and serious illnesses caused by the tainted steroids.

Inspectors found a host of potential contaminants at the company’s Framingham plant, including standing water, mold, water droplets and dirty equipment. Fungus was found in more than 50 vials from the pharmacy.

The company gave up its license and filed for bankruptcy protection after it was flooded with hundreds of lawsuits from victims. A bankruptcy court judge has set a Jan. 15 deadline for victims to file claims.

Attorneys for the company’s principals, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

— Associated Press

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