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In murder case, federal prosecutors say pharmacist responsible for meningitis outbreak

Flickr Creative Commons/Sanofi Pasteur
The NECC shipped out massive amounts of contaminated steroid injections

“Who killed Karina Baxter and the…other individuals (in the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak)"?

That’s the question federal prosecutors are asking the court to consider, as the murder case against Barry Cadden began today in Boston.

Cadden’s the former co-owner and head pharmacist of the New England Compounding Center. That’s the place that made contaminated back pain injections, which it shipped out to pain clinics and doctors across the country.

Hundreds of people got sick. More than 60 died, including 19 in Michigan.

Cadden’s facing second-degree murder charges in 25 of those deaths. In their opening statements today, federal prosecutors allege he put “profits over patients” by knowingly churning out massive amounts of unsanitary, deadly medications.

But the defense says Cadden didn’t make those medications, and claims the government doesn’t have enough evidence tying him to the contamination. They told the jury those medications were distributed because of “isolated incidents” of human error, according to the AP. 

In court filings, Cadden’s attorneys also point the finger at the individual pain clinics that injected patients with the contaminated meds. Many of those clinics have settled multi-million dollar lawsuits with patients. 

For Anita Baxter, it’s been a long wait for this criminal trial to finally get underway. Her mom, Karina Baxter, died at age 56 after receiving her routine injection for back pain. That steroid shot was one of the contaminated medications shipped out by the NECC.

“I’m happy that justice is, hopefully, finally at our doorstep,” she said Monday. “I definitely think that it’s second degree murder. I’ve read through the indictment in detail, I’ve been through what’s public that they have, and it seems to me there’s no way that Cadden did not know what was going on and I’m hoping the jury will agree.

“But if it doesn’t, I guess I’ll just feel a loss of trust in the system,” she says, “and I already feel that way, because this happened in the first place. These medicines are supposed to be regulated, and they’re supposed to be safe.”  

Cadden is charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder under racketeering law and dozens of other felonies in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, according to the AP. He has pleaded not guilty.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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