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Lab scandals, elections top 2012 news in Mass.

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 23, 2012 at 4:13 pm •  Published: December 23, 2012

BOSTON (AP) — A fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 39 people and sickened at least 620 in 19 states dominated Massachusetts headlines in 2012 after investigations revealed that a Framingham pharmacy produced tainted steroid shots that triggered the crisis.

Other top stories of the year included a scandal centered on the state's own drug lab that led to the release of hundreds of prisoners, the defeat of former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the election of Democrat Elizabeth Warren to the Senate and a return trip to the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

In the meningitis case, a preliminary probe found shoddy sterilization practices and unclean condition at the New England Compounding Center, but none was enough to definitively determine what caused the contamination.

NECC effectively went out of business after suspending its operation. Gov. Deval Patrick said the company may have misled regulators and done work beyond the scope of its state license. Victims have filed at least 50 federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars and alleging that the firm negligently produced a defective and dangerous product.

The state's own drug lab was at the center of another top story. A Massachusetts chemist was accused of deliberately faking drug test results in criminal cases, a scandal that led to the closure of the lab and the release of at least 200 prisoners whose cases are now on hold. Thousands of cases are under review. At least five senior state officials have resigned or been fired.

The chemist, 35-year-old Annie Dookhan, pleaded not guilty to several criminal charges. Officials have yet to explain why supervisors allowed her to continue working for years after colleagues raised concern about her work habits. The only motive authorities have described is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker.

In politics in 2012, Democrat Elizabeth Warren became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. She unseated Republican Sen. Scott Brown in one of the most closely watched races of the election. Warren is taking over a seat held for 47 years by the late Ted Kennedy.

The election also ensured that there will be a Kennedy in Congress again. Democrat Joseph Kennedy III, the 32-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and son of Joseph P. Kennedy II, defeated Republican businessman Sean Bielat in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Barney Frank.

Republican Mitt Romney became the latest Massachusetts politician to lose the presidential race when Democratic President Barack Obama was re-elected for his second and final term. Defeat was particularly difficult for Romney, whose aides said hours before polls closed that he had only prepared one speech — to celebrate his victory. In the end, the former Massachusetts governor lost to Obama in his home state, his home county and his hometown of Belmont.

Two key ballot questions got mixed results. Massachusetts voters approved a measure to allow marijuana use for medical reasons, joining 17 other states. But a question legalizing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill was defeated. Massachusetts would have become the third state to allow it.

Massachusetts also took key steps to implement its new gambling law that calls for three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in the state. A five-person commission charged with launching and overseeing an entirely new industry began accepting initial applications from casino developers. They include three in western Massachusetts, at least one in Boston and one in southeastern Massachusetts, where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is guaranteed the right to take a first shot at developing a casino. The community, however, suffered a major setback after the federal government rejected a compact the tribe negotiated with the state. The tribe is gearing to renegotiate.

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