Pharmacy tech swapped fentanyl for saline solution, hospital says

Fentanyl (Assosicated Press)
Fentanyl (Assosicated Press)

DES MOINES, IA (AP) – A pharmacy tech has admitted that he removed a potent painkiller from hundreds of vials and replaced it with saline solution, a hospital system spokeswoman said Thursday.

Methodist Medical Center contacted 731 patients after learning of the tampering because they may not have received full doses of fentanyl, UnityPoint Health – Des Moines spokeswoman Amy Varcoe said. The hospital believes about 250 vials were affected, but Varcoe said she didn’t know how many of the patients contacted received vials containing saline.

Records showed none of the patients complained of any out-of-the-normal pain, Varcoe said, and none faced any known physical risk.

The tech was fired Oct. 7 after a nurse reported finding a tainted vial on Oct. 6.

The tech “told us he used a syringe to take out the medication and replace it with saline. What he did with it he did not tell us,” Varcoe said.

“We don’t know exactly how much of it was diluted. We’re not sure how much was left or replaced,” she said.

The tech hasn’t been arrested but Varcoe expects he will be. He passed a criminal background check before he began his job on Aug. 26 and his references came back clear, she said.

He voluntarily took tests for hepatitis B and C and HIV to allay concerns that his use of a syringe to obtain the fentanyl may have contaminated the vials, if he’d used the same syringe on himself, Varcoe said. His tests came back negative, she said.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating. A regional spokeswoman in St. Louis didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press.

All the fentanyl on the hospital shelves Oct. 6 was removed and turned over to DEA investigators, as well as the more than 250 vials that were improperly accessed, Varcoe said. In addition, she said, the hospital has changed its fentanyl vendor to one that uses a more secure anti-tampering seal.

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