Governor Deval Patrick sharpened his tone Thursday about the state's oversight of the Framingham pharmacy that produced tainted steroid injections linked to 24 deaths from fungal meningitis and more than 300 infections nationally.
While the board of pharmacy, at the governor's direction, plans to revoke the license for New England Compounding Center and for three pharmacists in charge, "it shouldn't have taken death by meningitis to get there," Patrick said during his monthly segment on WTKK-FM. "I think that's a question in a lot of people's mind. I'm trying to get to the bottom of that."
At a press conference Tuesday, a senior health official in his administration had said there was "no indication at this moment in our investigatory process that the Board of Pharmacy has done anything wrong."
Todd Wallack and Kay Lazar reported in today's Globe that the board had cut New England Compounding a break several years ago:
State records released this week show the board's staff proposed an official reprimand and a three-year probation for New England Compounding and its chief pharmacist, Barry Cadden, after receiving a series of complaints that the company was shipping drugs in bulk without individual prescriptions. The board also received other complaints, including one reporting an adverse patient reaction to the same injectable steroid involved in the current outbreak.
But the board agreed to drop the reprimand and reduce the probation period to a single year in 2006, after the company's lawyer complained it could potentially put the company out of business. Ultimately, the board waived even that more modest penalty.
The story also noted that 10 states regularly conduct surprise inspections of pharmacies. Massachusetts does not. Patrick has ordered the board to begin unannounced visits immediately, but stressed during the radio segment that such inspections are not standard practice nationally.
When pressed by WTKK hosts about why the state didn't act when problems came up in the past, Patrick said, "We're asking the same questions."
"There is a record here," he said. "There's a record of citations. There's a record of inspections. There's a record of remediation, as well. The question I think a lot of us have been asking, that I have been asking, is where's the point where you say, enough's enough?"
Patrick said there was follow-up on complaints in 2006. When his predecessor Mitt Romney was governor, an Illinois firm was hired by the state to review operations, while the chief executive of the firm was awaiting trial for fraud. That executive was later convicted.
Patrick, said the firm was "sketchy" and he wants to know whether the board knew then of the firm's legal trouble. "If they were informed," he said, "why didn't they take some further actions?"
Most of the board members in 2006 remain on the panel, having been reappointed by Patrick.