Meningitis whistleblower on 60 Minutes

Lab worker at company which produced injections that caused lethal meningitis says he warned his supervisor that people could be harmed a month before the first patients died

A lab technician tells Scott Pelley he warned his supervisor at the New England Compounding Center that their drugs were going to harm people a month before a medication the pharmacy produced began killing patients.

Joe Connolly, in his first interview, says his concerns were literally met with a shrug by the supervisor at the center, which is now under criminal investigation. Connolly appears in a 60 Minutes investigation into NECC, the compounding pharmacy that produced thousands of vials of a steroid pain medication that caused fungal meningitis that has so far killed 48 Americans and sickened over 700 more in the worst pharmaceutical disaster in decades.

Pelley's report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 10 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.

A transcript of tonight's report on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley follows:

A pharmacy called New England Compounding Center is under criminal investigation. Last fall, it shipped 17,000 vials of a contaminated steroid to 23 states. Hundreds of people are still fighting horrific infections and patients continue to die -- the most recent, last week.

Until tonight, no one at New England Compounding would tell what happened. The company president, Barry Cadden, said this when he was subpoenaed by Congress.

[Barry Cadden: I respectfully decline to answer on the basis of my constitutional rights and privileges, including the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.]

Now, a 60 Minutes investigation has discovered how a pharmacy, not supervised by the FDA, came to ship toxic drugs to patients across the country.

Julie Otto: I've been in the hospital seven times, total of 75 days. I've missed Thanksgiving and Christmas and my son's birthday.

Julie Otto is one of the injured patients we met at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital outside Detroit.

[Willard: I'm on 60 milligrams of morphine a day with no cure in sight. There is no cure in sight for me.]

These patients were injected with the steroid to relieve chronic pain. Now, this is the fungus inside them. This sample was grown from the spinal fluid of a patient. The drug was produced by New England Compounding, known as NECC, outside Boston. Joe Connolly, a lab technician there, is the first to speak out about what happened.

Joe Connolly: The underlying factor is that the company got greedy and overextended and we got sloppy, and something happened.

NECC was one of thousands of so called compounding pharmacies. Congress exempted them from FDA oversight because, by law, they are allowed to make custom drugs just one patient at a time. But Connolly says, over a few years, NECC went national. Quantities of drugs increased by a factor of one thousand.

Joe Connolly: We became a manufacturer overnight. So we were basically trying to have the best of both worlds. It was trying to manufacture without the oversight of a manufacturer. And it was just, we all got over-taxed and everything.

A month before the first steroid death, he says he warned his supervisor.

Joe Connolly: Something's going to happen. Something's going to get missed. And we're going to get shutdown.

Scott Pelley: What did you mean by that?

Joe Connolly: We were going to hurt a patient. We were just thinking hurt a patient. We weren't compounding anymore, we were manufacturing.

Scott Pelley: When you went to your supervisor and told him that, he said what?

Joe Connolly: That's verbatim. He shrugged. That was his response for a lot of our questions or comments or concerns, was a shrug.

Scott Pelley: Meaning?

Joe Connolly: Just do it. He'd, either he didn't care, or he was powerless to change it.

NECC was shutdown by the authorities. The president of the company is Barry Cadden.

When subpoenaed by Congress, he pleaded the Fifth. He declined to be interviewed for our story. Today, his lawyer told us Cadden does not know how the contamination happened.

The state of Massachusetts examined NECC's lab in 2011 and found it satisfactory. But tomorrow on this broadcast, another company insider will tell us how NECC concealed its operations from inspectors.