October 1, 2012 — Boston health department officials are notifying 57 people that they may have been exposed to a blood infection when they were treated by ambulance during the summer of 2011.
A city ambulance worker may have been diverting injectable opioid painkillers while working as a paramedic for six weeks. The Boston Public Health Commission, the company that operates the city’s ambulance service, says they do not know if the paramedic had any blood infections, but they will offer free medical tests for people who may have been exposed.
Officials have attempted to call the exposed individuals. A letter will be sent regarding follow-up care and free medical tests. The company has also informed the city police department, Drug Enforcement Agency, and state public health department officials. The company has not named the paramedic or filed charges. There is a pending criminal investigation against the individual.
The company had security rules mandating that at least two paramedics must be present whenever painkillers are being administered. It is not clear how the drugs may have been diverted. Drug diversion occurs when healthcare workers inject themselves with powerful narcotic painkillers, re-fill the syringe with another liquid, and then replace the syringe in its original location. When the syringe is then used on a patient, blood diseases can be transmitted. Furthermore, the patient never receives vital painkillers — often after injuries, or before a surgery.
Although there are no clear statistics on how often drug diversion occurs, it is a serious problem. Earlier this year, officials at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire notified thousands of people that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C. A traveling hospital worker, David Kwiatkowski, was allegedly diverting fentanyl at the hospital. At least 30 people have tested positive for hepatitis C after being treated at the hospital.
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