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Head of State's Department of Public Health, JP's John Auerbach, Resigns Over JP Drug Lab Scandal

Public Health Department Commissioner John Auerbach, a JP resident, resigned Monday, saying "the buck stops with me" in the scandal that has shuttered the state drug lab on South Street — and put thousands of convictions at risk.

The scandal at the state's drug lab in Jamaica Plain claimed its highest-level victim to date with the resignation of the commission of public health.

John Auerbach, who according to the JP Gazette lives here in the neighborhood, stepped down Monday. In a statement, he accepted responsibility.

"It is clear that there was insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers surrounding the former Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain – and ultimately, as Commissioner, the buck stops with me."

As many as 34,000 criminal cases could be undermined by the alleged actions of chemist Annie Dookhan. She is alleged to have tampered with evidence in a variety of ways, including so as to produce false positives for illicit drugs.

Last week other heads rolled. Lab director Dr. Linda Han resigned and Julie Nassif, director of the analytic chemistry division, was fired, according to reports in the Globe and Herald.

Dookhan herself had resigned long before the scandal became public. Governor Deval Patrick ordered the JP lab, which is on South Street near the Forest Hills T, closed. Drugs samples are now being processed at the State Police lab in Sudbury.

Patrick has accepted Auerbach's resignation, according to the Globe. He had led the agency for six years.

"The failures at the Department of Public Health drug lab are serious and the actions and inactions of lab management compounded the problem," Patrick said in a press statement. "The Commissioner recognizes that, as the head of DPH, he shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight."

Jamaica Plain is something of a hub for leadership in public health. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, a longtime resident of Parkside, is executive director of the City of Boston's Public Health Commission.

 

In his own words

Below is the entire statement from Auerbach:

“It is with deep regret and with a sense of responsibility to uphold the high ideals Governor Patrick demands that I announce today my resignation as Commissioner of the Department of Public Health.

“It is clear that there was insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers surrounding the former Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain – and ultimately, as Commissioner, the buck stops with me.

“What happened at the drug lab was unacceptable and the impact on people across the state may be devastating, particularly for some within the criminal justice system. We owe it to ourselves and the public to make sure we understand exactly how and why this happened. I will continue to work with investigators to make sure we find answers and accept responsibility.  

“The behaviors of the drug lab chemist and the failure to properly manage and supervise her work are unacceptable.  But I know they do not represent the work of the rest of the staff at the Department of Public Health. My colleagues take seriously their responsibility to help make Massachusetts a better place and are as upset with what happened as everyone else.  It has been my great honor and privilege to work together with them.

“In the past six years, the work of the Department of Public Health has had a significant, positive impact on public health and I am proud of these accomplishments, including: launching Mass in Motion, a major initiative to combat obesity and promote wellness; strengthening efforts to prevent chronic and infectious diseases; heightening efforts to combat substance abuse; successfully implementing sports head injury regulations and strengthening the Department’s focus on perinatal health outcomes. These efforts have lead to the lowest rates of HIV infections and deaths in decades, a decrease in the rise of opiate overdose deaths and holding the line on childhood obesity.

“I thank Secretary Bigby for her leadership and principled commitment to promoting the health of residents of the Commonwealth. I offer my deep appreciation to the Governor for the opportunity to have held this position and I look forward to continuing my work to promote public health in my future endeavors.” 

BTB October 13, 2012 at 05:20 AM
"The scandal at the state's drug lab in Jamaica Plain claimed its highest-level "victim" to date with the resignation of the commission of public health." John Auerbach is a VICTIM???? NO... those 34,000 incarcerated on false evidence are VICTIMS.

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