A man who worked as the lead tech in an Alabama pharmacy is accused of diluting painkilling medications administered by IV to dying cancer patients in order to feed his own alleged opioid addiction, according to charging documents obtained by PEOPLE.
Johnathon William Click, 30, of Bessemer, Alabama, was charged Monday with tampering with consumer products “in reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury,” with “extreme indifference” to that risk, the office of U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, representing the Northern District of Alabama, announced.
Authorities said that between December 2014 and September 2016, Click removed morphine sulfate and hydromorphone hydrochloride from vials meant for mixing IV bags at his place of employment, ContinummRx of Central Alabama. He then replaced the fluids with saline or sterile water, “knowing the diluted vials would be dispensed to patients,” according to the federal charge.
ContinuumRx ended Click’s employment in September 2016, after the company’s internal controls discovered Click’s activity, said Tod Hanson, the company’s vice president of operations.
“We identified it ourselves and immediately took action,” Hanson tells PEOPLE. “The pharmacist that oversees the activities of those technicians was very — I guess he recognized an improper action and he followed up on it. He saw something unusual in that behavior and pulled the string and uncovered what that employee had done.”
After alerting the State Board of Pharmacy and the federal DEA, Hanson said, authorities “very quickly absolved us of any improper controls, any improper actions.”
“We were a collaborative partner with them in resolving the whole issue,” he said.
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It remains an active investigation and Click has not yet been arraigned or entered a plea, Peggy Sanford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, tells PEOPLE.
An attorney for Click was not identified, although prosecutors also filed a pending plea agreement in the case.
That agreement alleges that Click diverted the morphine and hydrophone from the company’s secured inventory by surreptitiously removing vials, withdrawing the drugs from the vials, and then adding liquid to replace it. He subsequently used those diluted vials, which were returned to the locked inventory, to mix IV bags that then were distributed to hospice and in-home patients.
“This defendant was willing to subject terminal cancer patients to intolerable pain in order to feed his own addiction,” U.S. Attorney Town said in a statement.
“This is one more aspect of the epidemic problem America has with abuse of prescription opioids,” he added. “It also is a testament to law enforcement’s commitment to fight the illegal diversion of these drugs.”
“In this case, people who desperately needed the prescribed drugs for their intended purpose of controlling intense and prolonged pain instead suffered at the hands of a man who knew the misery he could cause.”
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