Grand County EMS drug case under investigation

Hank Shell
Grand County EMS is considering relocating the ambulance currently stationed at the Grand Lake Fire Department. File Photo / Tonya Bina.
Tonya Bina/ |

Authorities are investigating what appears to be a case of drug theft from Grand County Emergency Medical Services.

A single employee is suspected of stealing morphine and fentanyl, both powerful opioids, sometime in late 2013. Officials couldn’t say specifically whether drugs were stolen from EMS vehicles or facilities, or how much of the drugs were stolen.

“What basically happened is when we were made aware of the situation, we pulled all of our current inventory and handed it over to (the Colorado Bureau of Investigation),” said Nowell Curran, deputy chief of Grand County EMS and the office of emergency management.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment alerted Grand County EMS to a possible case of drug diversion in December 2013, Curran said.

“Once we received that information, we immediately took action to determine whether that information was true,” said Ray Jennings, chief of Grand County EMS and the office of emergency management.

Officials with CDPHE would not say how they became aware of the alleged crime.

“There are a number of ways that folks can send us information,” said Jeanne-Marie Bakehouse, branch chief of CDPHE’s Emergency Medical and Trauma Services. “Complaints are certainly one of them.”

The employee in question was terminated later in December 2013 for an unrelated occurrence, Jennings said. Officials would not release the name of the employee.

CBI is currently investigating the incident, though no arrests have been made.

“ As with any case, the CBI cannot specifically comment on an active investigation,” said Susan Medina, CBI’s public information officer, in an email. “As the investigation continues to progress, I can provide updates as to the status of the case. Once the investigation is completed, additional details will be released.”

Medina could not say when the investigation could be completed.

CPDHE is also conducting its own investigation into the employee suspected of stealing the drugs. CPDHE is the agency that certifies EMS providers.

“The investigations we have here, speaking very broadly as part of our role and responsibility, is making sure that providers work in scope and don’t have criminal charges brought against them,” Bakehouse said.

Because some of the drugs stolen were in an injectable form, CDPHE is also investigating whether patients were put at risk by unsafe injection practices, said Dr. Wendy Bamberg, a medical epidemiologist with CDPHE.

In 2009, 18 patients in a Denver hospital were infected with Hepatitis C after a surgical technician stole fentanyl syringes, injected herself with the drug, refilled them with saline and replaced them to be used on patients.

“At this point, there’s no specific evidence to indicate that patients are at risk,” Bamberg said.

Though CDPHE only has the power to suspend or revoke its certification of EMS providers, it’s currently collaborating with CBI through its investigation, Bamberg said.

New policies

Since the incident, Grand County EMS has implemented a random and on-hire drug testing policy, Curran said.

The department is also looking at the handling of narcotics and how they are secured, she said.

“We have tamper proof seals so there’s no way they can be tampered with,” Curran said. “We researched what other agencies are doing in the state of Colorado. Not just ambulances but hospitals as well.”

The department did follow the “national standard” for drug storage before the incident, Jennings said.

“We had a good system prior to the event,” he said. “We just felt that we could add other security features that would make it that much more secure going forward.”

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

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