Our Opinion: Problems at Department of Public Health
The state inspector general’s finding of a pattern of neglect, mismanagement and poor standards at the Jamaica Plain drug laboratory where a scandal linked to one chemist, Annie Dookhan, has created a legal and financial nightmare for the state is sadly not surprising. The question it raises, in concert with the growing controversy over the awarding of medical marijuana clinic licenses, is what is wrong with the state Department of Public Health?
The tampering with evidence in hundreds of criminal cases by Ms. Dookhan, who was sentenced to three to five years in state prison last November, only came fully to light when State Police took over the lab from DPH in 2012. While the report concluded after a 15-month investigation that Ms. Dookhan was the only "bad actor" at the lab, the report made it clear that mismanagement of the lab made it easy for her to act as she did. Among the problems uncovered by the inspector general were poor training, non-existent performance evaluations, sloppy measurements of drug samples and lost samples.
So far, 500 defendants have been released from state prison because their cases were linked to Ms. Dookhan and this report may prompt legal challenges to other cases where drug samples came through this poor excuse for a crime lab. The state has spent $18 million on Dookhan-related cases, many of which had to be re-tried, and that cost will escalate.
While the DPH escaped having to clean up the mess it made, it is creating a mess on a different front. Poor investigations of applicants, political influence and inconsistent standards are causing the unraveling of the process used to license medical marijuana clinics. Before matters get any worse, the licenses granted should be revoked and the entire procedure begun again with a more responsible group, perhaps a committee of legislators.
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