Public health chief says he’s ‘furious’ about state drug lab scandal

John Auerbach (David Ryan/Boston Globe)
John Auerbach (David Ryan/Boston Globe)

John Auerbach, who said Monday he would resign as the state’s public health chief because of the state drug testing lab scandal, said today he was “furious” about what happened at the Jamaica Plain facility.

He said he felt “complete anger that the actions of a single person caused so much damage and harm.”

In comments before a meeting of the state Public Health Council, he said, “I accept no responsibility for the actions of a rogue chemist,” but at the same time he said that ultimately the responsibility was his.

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Annie Dookhan, a chemist who worked at the lab for nine years, allegedly mishandled drug evidence used in criminal cases by altering the weight of drugs, not calibrating machines correctly, and manipulating samples to test as drugs when they were not.

Dookhan may have handled 60,000 drug samples, in 34,000 cases, and some or all of the evidence may be tainted, State Police have told prosecutors.

The Globe has reported that internal e-mails from chemists and supervisors at the lab described a staff drowning in work, instances of misplaced evidence, and mounting frustration over the Patrick administration’s seeming indifference.

Auerbach said, “The last five years the state of the economy has affected everybody. Everybody has had to tighten their belt. ... Budgets were reduced.”

But reductions “should never be an excuse” for lack of oversight, said Auerbach.

Auerbach, who has been in his job for 5 1/2 years, has been a popular fixture in public health agencies for more than two decades. He is expected to stay in his post a few more weeks. He has accepted a post as the director of Northeastern University’s Urban Health Research Institute; he will also be a professor there.