UPDATE 1-Massachusetts AG probing firm at center of meningitis outbreak


(Adds background on outbreak, lawmaker's request for probe)

BOSTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) - The pharmacy company at thecenter of a deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak that has killed 14people is being investigated by the M a ssachusetts AttorneyGeneral.

"We are absolutely engaged with federal and stateauthorities to determine what led to the distribution of theseunsafe drugs," Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Attorney GeneralMartha Coakley, said on Thursday. "Once we have identified theconduct and circumstances that led to this tragedy, we willidentify any potential legal action."

The meningitis cases have been linked to drugs distributedby New England Compounding Center based in Framingham,Massachusetts, according to federal and state authorities. Thecompany issued a recall of all of its products and shut downlast week.

As many as 14,000 people may be at risk of contractingmeningitis after they were treated with potentially contaminateddoses of steroids distributed by NECC, the U.S. Centers forDisease Control and Prevention said on Thursday. Fourteen people

have died and 170 people have been infected in the outbreak,the CDC said in its latest update.

Massachusetts health regulators and the U.S. Food and DrugAdministration have said that NECC appeared to have violated itsstate licensing requirements.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal calledfor a federal criminal investigation of the meningitis outbreak.Blumenthal, a former Connecticut state attorney general andfederal prosecutor, said he had asked U.S. Attorney General EricHolder to conduct a criminal inquiry.

"The fact that death and serious injuries resulted from thepotential violations of law certainly is relevant, and themisstatements or fraud could constitute a violation of federalmail and wire fraud prohibitions," Blumenthal said.

(Reporting by Aaron Pressman. Editing by Andre Grenon)


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