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Meningitis Outbreak: Michigan Attorney General Launches Investigation into Contaminated Steroids

Update Date: Mar 26, 2013 10:53 PM EDT

Following the death of 17 Michigan residents who contracted meningitis from contaminated steroids, the states attorney general said on Tuesday he is launching a criminal investigation into a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company linked to the deadly outbreak of meningitis.

Bill Schuette 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 (NECC) that produced tainted steroids which left 51 people dead nationwide and 730 sick.

The most recent Michigan infection was reported on Tuesday, and the most recent death was reported on March 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The first patient was reported to the CDC by Tennessee's health department Sept. 12, and the company began recalling lots of the drug two weeks later.

"Hundreds of Michigan citizens and their families have endured terrible pain and deaths of loved ones suffering from illnesses caused by these tainted steroid injections," Schuette said in a statement. "This investigation is necessary to uncover the truth as to how this unspeakable tragedy happened and to restore public faith in our health care system."

A state grand jury would have subpoena power to compel officials with the NECC to testify, Schuette said. The four counties where clinics dispensed the drug in Michigan are Genesee, Grand Traverse, Livingston and Macomb. Such grand jury investigations are rare in Michigan.

The New England lab voluntarily surrendered its Michigan pharmacy and controlled substances licenses in December and can no longer do business in the state.

NECC shipped thousands of vials of a fungus-tainted steroid to medical facilities across the nations, resulting in more than 14,000 people being exposed to these steroids.  According to the report, patients were mainly injecting the steroids for pain relief. 

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