State Lab head quits in drug-testing scandal; other labs still open

September 14, 2012
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The state investigation that shut down the drug testing lab at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute is not looking into the 17 other labs in the building, which include disease control and racehorse drug testing labs.

Dr. Linda Han, who oversaw all 18 public labs in the building as director of Bureau of Laboratory Sciences, recently resigned in the wake of the drug lab scandal. The drug lab has been closed by the State Police, but the other 17 labs remain open at the Institute at 305 South St.

“The closure of the Hinton Forensic Drug Lab had no effect on the 17 public health laboratories at Hinton, which remains open,” said state Department of Public Health spokesperson Alec Loftus in an email to the Gazette.

Loftus said DPH’s initial investigation focused only on the drug lab.

The drug lab, which examined drug evidence in criminal trials, was shut down on Aug. 30 amid concerns that a former chemist mishandled thousands of drug samples, potentially tainting many convictions.

When asked if the State Police investigation is covering any of the other 17 labs, spokesperson David Procopio responded, “No. Only the former DPH drug lab there.”

But heads have rolled at the Institute, commonly known locally as the State Lab, due to questions about supervision of the chemist in question. Besides the resignation of Han, Julie Nassif, who served as the director of the analytic chemistry division, was recently fired. Disciplinary proceedings for the former chemist’s direct supervisor have begun.

The exact administrative structure of the various labs is unclear. The Bureau of Laboratory Sciences, which Han headed, is specifically the disease-testing lab. That is separate from the drug testing lab. But it appears Han had some supervision of both departments.

In a previously released statement, Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby said there was unacceptable delay by lab management in notifying DPH Commissioner John Auerbach, a Jamaica Plain resident, about the former chemist mishandling samples.

According to the State Lab website, the various departments within the building include the disease-testing and former drug-testing labs; the DPH’s Mass. Food Protection Program; the DPH’s Mass. Infectious Disease Bureau; the State Racing Commission Laboratory for testing racehorses for doping; the University of Massachusetts’s New England Newborn Screening Program; UMass’s Biologic Laboratories, a nonprofit that makes vaccines and other substances; and the National Laboratory Training Network. According to its website, that latter program is intended to improve the skills of lab workers and “promote excellence in laboratory practice.”

John Ruch contributed to this article.