Narcotics missing from Ohio fire stations

There is suspicion within the division that a firefighter or paramedic took the drugs, but officials said nothing has been proven

The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus police are investigating the possible theft of narcotics from two Columbus fire stations after several bottles of painkillers disappeared within a 24-hour period.

Police reports obtained by The Dispatch through a public-records request show that several bottles of a painkiller and a sedative used to reduce seizures were missing from two ambulances in late March.

“We went to hospitals where the medics were at, and we went to where we made runs, and we feel like we’ve done our due diligence,” said Deputy Chief James Davis, who oversees the Fire Division’s emergency-services operations. “We couldn’t find any valid reason why they are gone.”

The division was required to call the police. Because the painkiller is a controlled substance, the city also had to notify the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy.

There is growing suspicion within the division that a firefighter or paramedic took the drugs, but Davis said nothing has been proved. Police have questioned several firefighters.

“The fact that the drugs went missing within a 24-hour period is what raised our suspicion,” Davis said.

Lax policies and broken equipment might have made a theft easier. A Fire Division review of drug security and protocols found problems with record-keeping and broken locks on drug-storage compartments in vehicles.

The drugs were taken from ambulances inside Station 4 at 3030 Winchester Pike on the East Side and across town at Station 26 at 5433 Fisher Rd. near Hilliard, according to the police reports.

The street value of the drugs is unknown. The missing amount equates to a handful of small bottles, Davis said.

A review after the drugs disappeared found broken and malfunctioning locks in 13 ambulances. In some instances, the logs kept in fire stations of who had the drugs and when they were dispersed and records of how much was still on board were not kept up-to-date.

George Speaks, the city’s safety director, said fire administrators are creating a better policy and the locks are being fixed.

“This is an isolated event, and we have taken proactive measures to greatly minimize it occurring in the future,” he said.

Nearly every major fire department in Ohio equips its paramedics with the missing painkiller, fentanyl. Columbus started using the narcotic to treat severe pain more than two years ago.

Fire departments and hospitals prefer it to morphine because it’s cheaper and more effective and is given in much smaller doses.

Paramedics used the painkiller on patients a little less than twice a day each of the past two years, according to numbers provided by the Fire Division. The typical dose is between 25 and 50 micrograms per patient, Davis said.

Patients received the drug for pain from such things as broken bones, heart attacks and gunshot wounds. Federal regulations govern the handling and administering of narcotics.

Paramedics have to explain the steps they took that led to administering the drug and why it was used. The exact amount of the drug used must be accounted for. A fire captain or lieutenant is responsible for resupplying the ambulances. Signatures are gathered every time the drug is transferred from a locked cabinet to a vehicle.

The missing sedative is Versed.

The police investigation is expected to take a few more weeks. The city’s drug-testing policy allows for random testing of employees or testing if there is reasonable suspicion that an employee is using drugs, according to the contract with the firefighters union.

Davis said a review was underway before the drugs disappeared. Fire Chief Greg Paxton ordered an update of protocols shortly before he retired.

“We are changing forms to make sure it was more user-friendly, and we’ve got almost all that completed,” Davis said. “We have firefighters at an EMS conference (last week) to see if there is more we can be doing, and this week we will update the new training.”

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