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March 27, 2013

Mich. AG seeks criminal probe of meningitis deaths

LANSING — The state attorney general sought permission to launch a criminal investigation into a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company linked to a deadly outbreak of meningitis, saying Michigan was at the “epicenter” of pain and death in the case.

Bill Schuette on Tuesday filed a request with the Michigan Court of Appeals for a rare, four-county grand jury to conduct a confidential probe into the New England Compounding Center, the company already accused in dozens of civil lawsuits of producing contaminated steroids that killed 51 people nationwide and sickened more than 700.

If the court agrees to an investigation, a jury of citizens in one of the counties would decide if criminal charges should be brought.

“Michigan is at the epicenter of this national meningitis tragedy,” Schuette said during a news conference at his office in Lansing. “We will find the truth and bring to justice those who may have broken the law.”

Grand Traverse County is one of the four counties covered by the grand jury inquiry. Contaminated steroid injections are blamed in the deaths of two Grand Traverse residents. A 73-year-old resident’s death was linked to the injections in February. The death of the second county resident, an 80-year-old, was linked to the injections on March 11.

The number of Michigan residents infected — 259 at last count, 17 who died — is “brutal,” Schuette said.

The Michigan Department of Community Health is not releasing the names of the deceased from Grand Traverse County.

Multiple other northern Michigan residents are believed to be infected from contaminated shots administered to patients at the Traverse City-based medical facility, Neuromuscular and Rehabilitation, which unknowingly received a shipment of contaminated injections. Two area women, Phyllis Briggs, of Interlochen, and Barbara Ann Smoot, of Honor, are suing the medication’s manufacturer, New England Compounding Center, and others.

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