TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) —The discovery of dozens of punctured painkiller vials in the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue (HCFR) narcotics supply prompted quick changes, and others that will be online later this month.
What started with a medic noticing a compromised vial in July 2021 led investigators to finding “punctured safety caps” and “slightly uneven levels of the liquid” in 81 drug containers on 15 vehicles.
Investigators suspected someone took the drugs out with a hypodermic needle and then replaced it with some sort of clear liquid to hide the crime. Testing by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office revealed painkillers meant for patients had been diluted.
Documents 8 On Your Side obtained stated a paramedic recalled he “attempted to use Fentanyl on a patient, and it did not have the desired effect after using the entire bottle.”
HCFR Rescue Division Chief Todd Carnell said there is no evidence any patients received diluted narcotics, but he acknowledged it was not out of the question.
“It would be possible,” Carnell said. “I can’t say it wouldn’t be possible.”
Michael Reyer, a 15-year veteran paramedic, resigned two days after the investigation began. In August, the Hillsborough County State Attorney cited a lack of evidence after deciding against charging Reyer, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Reyer’s paramedic license expired at the end of 2022 but he is still a licensed registered nurse with a clean record, according to state records.
Carnell said he understood the decision not to charge Reyer.
“It’s very hard without video to say this person did this act,” Carnell said. “And we don’t record video in the back of the ambulance to make sure a patients’ confidentiality is protected.”
Carnell said after the puncture holes were found, the department replaced outdated drug cabinets in back-up rescue units with modern vaults that were already in the department’s front line fleet.
“The new style vault was what allowed us in less than 30 minutes to drill into who we thought it was,” Carnell said. “We knew immediately.”
More technology is on the way. High tech drug dispensers that resemble food vending machines will control the supply that moves from each battalion station into department vehicles.
The machines include checks and balances and shrinks the number of department personnel with approved access to the drugs.
“The dispensing system will send emails to logistics, the battalion chief me and the internet technology people that that machine was accessed,” Carnell said. “It puts another control on the narcotics.”
The vending machines will be installed in prominent areas of the stations that are often frequented by personnel.
“Battalion chiefs will no longer be able to access drugs. Only employees authorized to dispense drugs can access it,” Carnell said. “It will take more than one employees to access the drugs and then they’ll sign off in a log book that they both accessed the drugs.”