Subpoenas in stolen fentanyl investigation seek narcotics logs, drug-test results

In this file photo, a police officer guides a MedStar ambulance as it backs down a driveway in Dupo.
In this file photo, a police officer guides a MedStar ambulance as it backs down a driveway in Dupo.

Subpoenas issued in Randolph County in connection with an ongoing investigation into the theft of the painkiller fentanyl from ambulances in the metro-east sought narcotics logs, patient care reports, drug test results and personnel information from a Belleville hospital and an area ambulance service.

Memorial Hospital officials said they complied with two subpoenas issued in July and August. The owner of Sparta-based MedStar Ambulance also said her company has complied with an order the court made in August.

The investigation began in May, when Southwestern Illinois EMS Medical Director Dr. Savoy Brummer, who is based at Memorial Hospital, ordered the powerful synthetic painkiller be removed from all ambulances that carried it in the 10-county region he oversees. Memorial officials in October said the action was taken after the discovery of an “unauthorized tampering” of the drug.

It was also announced in October that the FBI was assisting local law enforcement in the investigation. All ambulance services equipped with fentanyl were ordered to provide detailed narcotics logs spanning from May 2013 to May 2015.

The July 22 subpoena issued to Memorial sought “all narcotics logs pertaining to” a specific individual, beginning Jan. 1, 2015. The Aug. 11 subpoena sought “all narcotics logs and narcotics pushed from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013, pertaining to” the individual.

The News-Democrat is not publishing the name of the individual, who has not been charged with any crime.

Memorial Chief Operating Officer Michael McManus on Monday declined to give information about the individual, saying it could jeopardize an ongoing investigation.

The Aug. 13 subpoena issued to MedStar sought “all dispatch record logs, patient care reports, daily narcotics logs, all schedules, punch records and payroll records, personnel records and drug test results from Jan. 1, 2015 to present.”

MedStar owner Deborah Kelley said Thursday she’d been advised not to discuss the ongoing investigation.

The Illinois Department of Public Health oversees health professionals’ credentials. A spokeswoman on Thursday said Department records indicate two paramedic licenses were active for the individual who is named in the subpoenas. Those records do not indicate the individual’s employer.

An attempt to reach the individual for comment was not successful.

Memorial Hospital is designated by IDPH as the region’s EMS resource hospital, with responsibilities that include setting the policies ambulance services must follow and stocking ambulances with supplies, including narcotics. When ambulances get low on their supply of narcotics, their crews exchange it for a fresh stock at the hospital.

At the time of the exchange, the licensed pharmacists at the hospital “do a quick review of what’s there,” Memorial emergency management director Phillip Pugh said Monday. “There’s basically a form (ambulance crews maintain) that accounts for what’s been used, been wasted, what they currently have on hand.”

Tampering was discovered twice — once in October 2014 and again in May 2015, said McManus, the Memorial COO.

In both cases, “one of our pharmacists discovered a vial that was tampered with upon return by one of the rig (ambulance) crews,” he said. He offered no other specific details about the nature of the tampering but said the discovery prompted “further investigation into record keeping and into trends and patterns.”

Part of that investigation was to request information from the ambulance providers that carry fentanyl. McManus said the requests made of MedStar were not similar to those made of the other providers, but he would not elaborate.

Only Advanced Life Support-designated ambulances carry fentanyl. A search of court records in the counties where ALS ambulances operate showed no other subpoenas issued to EMS providers.

When IDPH learned of the possible theft and subsequent investigation, spokeswoman Melaney Arnold wrote in an October email to the News-Democrat that the agency “is encouraging all EMS Systems to review their narcotic policies and to conduct quality assurance studies, such as monitoring patients who have received narcotics in order to identify if the drug is working as it should.”

Kelley, the MedStar owner, would not answer questions about MedStar being listed on the August subpoena, but she said the company is cooperating.

“I don’t want to compromise any investigation for any reason,” Kelley said. “There’s a variety of entities that are conducting investigations. Right now they’ve told me they would prefer I not discuss it or make any statements. Anything they’ve requested, we’ve provided.”

Fentanyl still has not been reintroduced to local ambulance service since it was last ordered removed in May. It’s up to the regional EMS medical director to decide when it’s to be reintroduced.

Brummer likely won’t make that decision. According to Pugh, Brummer is leaving his post as EMS medical director on Feb. 1 to take another job in the hospital. His replacement hasn’t been named.

“I don’t think we’ll know the complete outcome of when and in what format we will reintroduce the fentanyl,” Pugh said.

McManus said fentanyl wouldn’t be available until hospital staff is certain “it can be administered safely and properly.”

“It’s very unfortunate that it isn’t available right now because of things that have occurred. We wish it wasn’t that way,” McManus said. “We’ve had this responsibility (as a resource hospital) since the 1970s. We take it very seriously. We’re very proud of it. We do not like having to be in this situation.”

Tobias Wall: 618-239-2501, @Wall_BND