State Lab shapes up after drug-testing scandal

January 17, 2014
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The state Department of Public Health (DPH) says that the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain has improved management in the wake of the Annie Dookhan drug-testing scandal.

The State Lab has implemented recommendations from a critical report and has been given satisfactory marks by several inspection agencies. DPH oversees the Hinton Institute.

The Hinton Institute, which is located at 305 South St., was the site of a drug-evidence testing scandal in 2012, where former chemist Dookhan was caught deliberately mishandling evidence in thousands of criminal cases and lying about holding a master’s degree. She pleaded guilty last year.

The drug-evidence lab was shut down and remains closed, its worked moved to another facility outside Boston. But 17 other labs operate within the State Lab building. Their work includes testing suspected bioterrorism materials, checking racehorses for doping, and examining animals for rabies and West Nile Virus.

According to a Nov. 23, 2012 report from the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), there were management issues at the Hinton Institute, including a lack of an overall lab safety program, flawed employee reviews and a lack of a full-time, dedicated “quality assurance” supervisor

When the Gazette recently asked DPH for an update on the Hinton Institute, spokesperson Anne Roach said in an email that the institute “has implemented many of the [report’s] recommendations, including regular reviews of the quality assurance program and the hiring of a new lab director with extensive management and administrative experience, as well as quality improvement.”

Roach said that APHL found that the 17 lab programs follow the standard of good laboratory practice and its quality assurance program is fully functional in all of the laboratories.”

She said that APHL noted the “the passion and dedication that lab staff had for their work, protecting the public health of the Commonwealth.” Roach also said that the programs at the Hinton Institute have received “satisfactory” inspections from recent visits from the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.

“The Hinton State Laboratory Institute continues to lead the way in many public health areas,” she said.

Roach said that the Hinton Institute identified a new strain of influenza, which was one of the four strains included in the development of the 2013-14 influenza vaccine.