Dept. of Health head resigns amid drug testing lab scandal - Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

Dept. of Health head resigns amid drug testing lab scandal

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BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach has resigned in the wake of a growing investigation into a chemist whose alleged mishandling of drug samples led police to shut down the state crime lab and re-examine tens of thousands of drug cases.

Auerbach said it's clear that there was "insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers" at the lab, which had been overseen by the Department of Public Health before being transferred to state police as part of a budgetary realignment.

"What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system." Auerbach said in a written statement Monday. "We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened."

He was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007 and made $142,362 in 2011.

Auerbach said he will continue to work with investigators.

Patrick accepted the resignation, calling the failures at the lab serious. He said the actions and inactions of lab management compounded the problem.

"The commissioner recognizes that, as the head of DPH, he shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight," Patrick said in a statement.

Patrick also defended Auerbach's overall record at the department during the past six years, calling his commitment to the common good and the people of Massachusetts unquestioned.

"While the recent developments are deeply troubling, they are not representative of the whole of John's work or of the rest of the department," Patrick added.

Auerbach's decision comes as prosecutors are beginning the process of figuring out how to deal with tens of thousands of drug cases handled by the chemist. State police closed the lab late last month.

As of mid-November, Auerbach will be taking a position at the Bouve School of Health Sciences at Northeastern University where he will be the Director of the Urban Health Research Institute and a professor of practice.

Chemist Annie Dookhan allegedly violated testing protocols and deliberately mishandled drug samples to such an extent that state police have called her actions "malfeasance." State officials are worried that thousands of drug convictions could be overturned and charges in pending cases could be jeopardized because of Dookhan's actions.

State officials have said Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples covering more than 34,000 defendants during her nine years working at the lab.

Attorney Max Stern, the President of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the chemist had "unsupervised access to the drug safe and evidence room and "tampered with evidence bags."

State police, who took over operation of the lab from the Department of Public Health on July 1, have said they don't know how many samples have been tainted by Dookhan.

Many defense attorneys have said they will challenge the reliability of any testing done by Dookhan.

Dookhan resigned in March, and late last week, state officials announced that one manager has been fired and another resigned in the wake of the scandal. State Attorney General Martha Coakley is conducting a criminal investigation.

Dr. Linda Han, director of the Bureau of Laboratory Sciences, resigned after being informed she faced termination, while Julie Nassif, director of the analytical chemistry division, was fired. Dookhan's immediate supervisor, who has not been identified, faces disciplinary proceedings.

"It's clear that the responsibility for what occurred here is not limited to simply the one analyst because there was a systemic problem that clearly was not being addressed," said defense attorney Randy Chapman, a past president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"The difference is the allegation against the analyst was that her actions were intentional, whereas I think with the management involved at the lab, it was a question of negligent supervision."

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