Corporate murder: death by syringe


Are corporate murderers evil, stupid or both? How could any corporate executive deliberately release contaminated products into the market and expect to get away with it?

Yesterday, two corporate executives in North Carolina were each sentenced for 4 ½ years in prison for deliberately shipping syringes without bothering to sterilize them. Dushyant Patel, the owner of the company, has fled to India in an effort to avoid prosecution. Thus far 5 people have died, and more than 200 have been sickened, some sustaining injuries such as permanent brain damage.

Patel’s company AM2PAT, doing business as Sierra Pre-Filled, manufactured sterile syringes pre-filled with medication used to keep IV lines open. Pre-filled syringes for IV maintenance are ubiquitous in any hospital and are often used by patients at on long term therapy at home.

According to the Associated Press:

Court documents portray a disturbing recklessness that allowed syringes to ship before they were checked for signs of contamination. Reports detailing the testing were backdated to appear they passed procedure before shipping, and some test results were manipulated or fabricated in an attempt to deceive inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, prosecutors said.

Patel’s company sold nearly $7 million worth of heparin and saline syringes in 2006-07. The plant in Angier, about 20 miles south of Raleigh, cut corners so it could maximize profit, including shipping products as quickly as possible without checking on safety …

In an effort to increase profits, the owner and executives of a company conspired to skip the sterilization of the syringes, and then altered the records to deceive inspectors from the FDA who were responsible for routine safety checks.

Not surprisingly, the unsterilized syringes were contaminated with bacteria. Specifically, the syringes were contaminated with Serratia marcescens. Serratia is a bacterium routinely found in soil and water. It can cause wound infections, blood infections (sepsis), and pneumonia, among other things.

Injecting the bacteria directly into a patient’s bloodstream dramatically increases the chance for serious, even deadly, infections. Moreover, all the people who received the injections were, by definition, already ill. That’s why they had an intravenous line in the first place. Shipping unsterilized syringes, ensuring that bacteria would be directly injected into the bloodstreams of people who were already debilitated by disease practically guaranteed that innocent people would die. Yet the owner and the executive of the company did it anyway.

The case is strikingly similar to the recent outbreak of salmonella traced back to one peanut processing plant. There, too, the owner, and possibly the executives of the company deliberately shipped out peanuts that they knew were contaminated with salmonella. Once again, it was virtually guaranteed that a substantial number of people would be sickened, and that some might die.

Leaving aside the moral dimensions (which are huge) for the moment, what were these business people thinking?

That nothing would happen? That’s simply not possible; they had to know that people inevitably would become seriously ill.

That no one would find out? That’s also impossible. Although lax FDA oversight allowed the companies to circumvent FDA regulations, once a pattern of disease appeared, the FDA would inevitably trace it back to the company of origin.

That they get away with it? They know that companies are destroyed and executives are imprisoned when people die as the result of the deliberate decision to introduce contaminated products into the marketplace.

Clearly these corporate executives are evil. They chose to deliberately infect people with serious diseases, simply to maximize profit. Yet, that does not seem like a sufficient explanation for the disasters that have unfolded. They must also be stupid. How else could anyone think they could kill people and get away with it?