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Massachusetts, Michigan To Coordinate NECC Meningitis Probes

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DETROIT (CBS/AP) — Authorities in Michigan and Massachusetts said Monday that they will coordinate their separate state and federal criminal investigations of a Framingham company that sold steroid injection materials linked to a fungal meningitis outbreak that sickened hundreds of people in 20 states.

A federal grand jury in Boston has been investigating the New England Compounding Center for more than a year and a multi-county grand jury has been investigating in Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said this effort will strengthen their work.

“The victims and families affected by this fungal meningitis tragedy deserve answers, and this agreement … will allow us to coordinate with federal officials and maximize the resources dedicated to this investigation,” Schuette said in a statement.

Schuette and Ortiz discussed the case Monday at a news conference in Detroit.

Since the contaminated steroids were first discovered, 751 people in 20 states, including 264 in Michigan, have developed fungal meningitis or other infections, including 64 who died.

Tennessee and Indiana were also hit hard.

“Through this coordinated approach, we will strengthen our respective independent federal and state criminal investigations and achieve justice for the … individuals and their families who have suffered so much,” Ortiz said in a statement.

The 6-month term of Michigan’s grand jury is nearly expired, but Schuette’s office said he may petition the presiding judge to reconvene the grand jury in the future, if necessary. Evidence already uncovered by the grand jury may be used in ongoing investigations.

“Our state grand jury has been very productive,” Schuette said.

NECC gave up its license and filed for bankruptcy protection after it was flooded with hundreds of lawsuits from victims. A bankruptcy court judge has set a Jan. 15 deadline for victims to file claims.

The FBI recently asked anyone who received one of the tainted injections to fill out a questionnaire detailing their illnesses and saying whether they believe another medication distributed by NECC caused harm to them or their family.

There’s a Nov. 30 deadline for surveys.

It is unclear whether the company or its executives will face criminal charges. Several lawyers who represent victims in lawsuits say health care companies charged with selling contaminated drugs often reach settlements with the federal government and agree to pay large fines. But the New England Compounding case is different because of the large number of deaths and serious illnesses caused by the tainted steroids.

Inspectors found a host of potential contaminants at the company’s Framingham plant, including standing water, mold, water droplets and dirty equipment. Fungus was found in more than 50 vials from the pharmacy.

Regulators have also said the company did not perform enough tests before sending the drugs to hospitals and clinics and sent drugs in bulk quantities instead of prescriptions for individual patients.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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