GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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December 3, 2012

Still no answers in drug lab probe

BOSTON — Facing questions from lawmakers, a top Patrick administration official says there were still no clear answers to the fundamental question of how a former state lab chemist working out of Jamaica Plain was able to get away for so long with evidence tampering that has jeopardized as many as 34,000 criminal drug cases, including at least some tied to Gloucester and the Essex County courts.

“We have asked the question: ‘What happened?’ and ‘How could one chemist have caused so much damage?’ Annie Dookhan violated the public trust in choosing to do what she did. She bears responsibility and is facing criminal charges for these acts,” said Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, testifying last week before three House committees at an oversight hearing into Hinton drug lab fiasco.

Dookhan is the former state drug lab chemist who has admitted to State Police to tampering with drug samples for a period of two to three years. Attorney General Martha Coakley has already charged Dookhan with falsifying her resume and obstruction of justice, and asked the court to postpone a pre-trial date in anticipation of further grand jury indictments by Dec. 20, according to court documents.

The criminal investigation being conducted by Coakley and the lab review being done by Inspector General Glen Cuhna could shed more light on how Dookhan’s actions went undetected for so long and whether the state will be exposed to civil litigation, officials said. Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan said there was no evidence yet to suggest the work of other chemists has been compromised.

The House committees on public health, public safety and post audit and oversight convened the hearing to look into the drug lab affair as the second of three oversight hearings exploring problems within the Department of Public Health. The first hearing focused on the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak and compounding pharmacy oversight. At the final hearing — on Dec. 12, a week from today — representatives will hear testimony from sheriffs, court leaders and other law enforcement officials.

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