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Massachusetts AG probing firm at center of meningitis outbreak

BOSTON (Reuters) - The pharmacy company at the center of a deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak that has killed 14 people is being investigated by the Massachusetts Attorney General.

"We are absolutely engaged with federal and state authorities to determine what led to the distribution of these unsafe drugs," Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley, said on Thursday. "Once we have identified the conduct and circumstances that led to this tragedy, we will identify any potential legal action."

The meningitis cases have been linked to drugs distributed by New England Compounding Center based in Framingham, Massachusetts, according to federal and state authorities. The company issued a recall of all of its products and shut down last week.

As many as 14,000 people may be at risk of contracting meningitis after they were treated with potentially contaminated doses of steroids distributed by NECC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday. Fourteen people have died and 170 people have been infected in the outbreak, the CDC said in its latest update.

Massachusetts health regulators and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said that NECC appeared to have violated its state licensing requirements.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal called for a federal criminal investigation of the meningitis outbreak. Blumenthal, a former Connecticut state attorney general and federal prosecutor, said he had asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a criminal inquiry.

"The fact that death and serious injuries resulted from the potential violations of law certainly is relevant, and the misstatements or fraud could constitute a violation of federal mail and wire fraud prohibitions," Blumenthal said.

(Reporting by Aaron Pressman. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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