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Paramedics raise alarm over alleged drug theft

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

Ambulance Victoria

Ambulance Victoria paramedics have been credited for raising the alarm after one of their colleagues allegedly stole a large quantity of the pain killer drug Fentanyl.

Ambulance Victoria chief executive officer Greg Sassella said “many hundreds” of patients were affected when the highly addictive drug was replaced with tap water.

Mr Sassella also revealed Victoria is the first state in Australia to now use Fentanyl vials with a more tamper-proof steel cap, replacing the former rubber cap which could be penetrated with a needle.

“We have been talking to them (the drug manufacturer) from before this incident to see if there can’t be improvements made,” he told a media conference.

“We asked them to expedite the changes and to their credit they have.”

Mr Sassella said the ambulance employee has been stood down on full pay while Victoria Police investigate the incident but he declined to comment on how long the alleged theft had been taking place.

“Once we were able to confirm that indeed there was an issue it was reported immediately to Victoria Police and their investigation is still underway as we speak today so I am limited in what I can say about the actual investigation.”

He said the ambulance service had contacted all patients who may have been affected and advised them the use of water, instead of Fentanyl, was “safe”.

“We know that the misappropriation of this drug in some instances it was replaced with tap water and the tap water was then given to the patient via the nose.

“Patients who have received this drug and it hasn’t worked they still have available to them morphine or another drug called methoxyflurane.

“We apologise for any sub-optimal pain relief they may have had; remember they may also have been given morphine due to the non-effect of the water.”

Mr Sassella said Ambulance Victoria’s security measures were “pretty tight”, and include drug safes with electronic access cards and codes along with CCTV but he said it was paramedics that alerted management to the alleged theft.

“We had advised our workforce to be vigilant and if they saw an anomaly to report them and in fact this particular incident was reported by the paramedics themselves so that’s to their great credit,” he said.

“We were then able to use our systems to clarify there was an issue and we reported it to the Victoria Police.

“It’s a very unfortunate reality but any health service, hospitals, ourselves and we know other national ambulance services have had a similar issue - extremely rare but some people are unable to overcome their desire to misappropriate drugs occasionally.”

Mr Sassella said while drug theft was “very rare” the ambulance service had been able to identify 100 per cent of cases.

“We are very confident in our systems and I think this is evidence of it,” he said.

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