State drug lab fallout continues

December 21, 2012
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The former chemist behind the state drug lab scandal has been indicted on 27 charges, while another top state Department of Public Health (DPH) official is on the way out.

The Gazette has also confirmed that at least one of the 17 labs at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute at 305 South St. is currently accredited.

The state drug lab scandal involves former chemist Annie Dookhan allegedly mishandling thousands of drug samples at the Hinton Institute. Dookhan’s alleged actions have put numerous convictions in doubt. The state drug lab was closed during the summer.

More charges for former chemist

State Attorney General Martha Coakley announced Dec. 17 that Dookhan had been indicted on 27 charges, including obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and falsely pretending to hold a degree from a college or university. Dookhan, who was charged with three counts in Boston Municipal Court in September, was expected to be arraigned at the Suffolk Superior Court Dec. 20, after the Gazette deadline.

“Her alleged actions have sent ripple effects throughout the criminal justice system,” said Coakley, according to a press release. “We are committed to working with all stakeholders to fix this situation and restore trust in the criminal in the criminal justice system.”

Another top DPH official leaves

Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Dec. 13 that state Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby, a JP resident, will be replaced next month by John Polanowicz. Bigby’s departure comes after several other top DPH officials have left in the wake of the state drug lab scandal and the Framingham pharmacy meningitis outbreak.

Polanowicz, a West Point graduate, was previously the vice president of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and the president of Marlborough Hospital. He currently serves as the president of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton.

Accreditation at Hinton Institute

The Gazette has learned that the childhood lead screening laboratory at the Hinton Institute is currently accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP). Accreditation is a process where an outside agency certifies an organization as meeting industry standards.

The Gazette previously reported that the now-closed state drug lab was not accredited.

“The program is based on rigorous accreditation standards that are translated into detailed and focused checklist requirements for nearly 20 disciplines. The checklists, which provide a quality practice pblueprint for laboratories to follow, are used by the inspection teams as a guide to assess the overall management and operation of the laboratory,” said CAP spokesperson Joe Schramm.

The Food and Drug Administration, which accredits at least the dairy lab and maybe more labs at the Hinton Institute, did not respond to a request for comment.