Michelle Caetano Thomas filled phony prescriptions

KINGSTON – An assistant pharmacy professor at the University of Rhode Island resigned last week following a two felony count conviction she received for signing off on phony drug shipments. 

Michelle Caetano Thomas, who had worked for the URI College of Pharmacy since August 2012, was convicted by the Boston Federal Court on May 2 for approving shipments of drugs for patients with names like “Coco Puff,” “Filet O’ Fish” and “Rug Doctor.” 

The role she played filling these prescriptions occurred at a previous job with the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a pharmacy in Framingham, Mass. that has long since gone out of business. 

In a statement provided by the University’s Communications Office on Wednesday, it was stressed that the conviction was “for actions that took place outside her role with the university.”

“During the legal process, Ms. Caetano was not interacting with students in the classroom but was assigned an alternative project pending a final verdict in the case,” the statement continued. 

Caetano was one of 14 people indicted after an investigation for the NECC, which previously made headlines for the leading role it played in a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak in 2012. The outbreak, brought on by producing and distributing contaminated drugs, “killed 64 and caused infections in 793 patients,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Although Caetano and another pharmacist, Kathy Chin, were both convicted for approving shipments of drugs with fake names, neither of them were charged with playing a role in the outbreak or any of the deaths and infections that followed. 

Prosecutors argued that the role Caetano and Chin played as “verification” pharmacists by signing off on these orders is what allowed the NECC to act like a drug manufacturer, rather than a compounding center, according to the Providence Journal. This allowed the NECC to circumvent regulations from the FDA. 

Numerous news outlets have reported that Caetano will be appealing the convictions. 

The university was able to confirm that Caetano officially stepped down from her position on May 6, also sharing that “the URI College of Pharmacy maintains its commitment to ethical leadership in teaching, research and scholarship.”

alewis@ricentral.com 

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