Revelations about the failures at the state drug-testing laboratory and its parent agency — the state Department of Public Health — are growing along with the number of criminal cases that may be affected. Right now, district attorneys across the state can only guess as to how many of their cases might have been tainted by forensic lab chemist Annie Dookhan, who is the subject of a criminal investigation. But they learned this week that she handled about 50,000 drug samples in 34,000 cases since 2003.
Lab officials displayed a stunning lack of judgment dating back to June 2011, when they discovered that Dookhan was mishandling lab samples. Though they stripped her of testing duties, they reportedly failed to inform their bosses at the state Department of Public Health until six months later. Then department officials exacerbated the problem by sitting on the information for a few more months before communicating with prosecutors. The full extent of this problem might easily have been covered up if not for the State Police, which took over the lab in July as required by the fiscal year 2013 budget.