Pharmacy Tech Accused Of Stealing Prescription Opioids From Cancer Patients

By Paul Gaita 10/03/17

The former technician allegedly removed morphine and hydromorphone from unused vials and replaced them with saline or sterile water.  

 Bottle of pills on desk with a middle aged male pharmacist in the background

A technician at a pharmacy in central Alabama has been accused of diluting prescription opioids intended for terminal cancer patients, reportedly to enable his own substance dependency issues.

Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, announced on September 25 that Johnathon William Click, 30, of Bessemer, Alabama, was federally charged, accused of tampering with consumer products (specifically vials of the morphine sulfate and hydromorphone hydrochloride) intended for use in IV bags for hospice and home care patients, and replacing the medication with water.

According to People, Click has not been arraigned or entered a plea, though prosecutors have filed a plea agreement in the case. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the charging documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Alabama, which Town represents, Click reportedly carried out the opioid removals from December 2014 to September 2016 while employed as the lead pharmacy technician at the Birmingham-based ContinuumRX of Central Alabama (CRX), which primarily distributes IV bags containing morphine and hydromorphone for palliative care.

Click is alleged to have removed the aforementioned opioids from vials in CRX's locked inventory and replaced them with saline or sterile water. Click reportedly then returned the tampered vials to the inventory, which would then be used to compound IV bags for patients at numerous in-home care and hospices in the area.

CRX fired Click in September 2016 after a pharmacist who oversees the technician staff became aware of his alleged activity. "We identified it ourselves and immediately took action," said Tod Hanson, the company's vice president of operations, who subsequently reported the incidents to the State Board of Pharmacy and the DEA. The board and agency, along with the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigation, conducted an investigation which led to the charges against Click.

"This defendant was willing to subject terminal cancer patients to intolerable pain in order to feed his own addiction," said U.S. Attorney Town. "This is one more aspect of the epidemic problem America has with abuse of prescription opioids. 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."

The U.S. Attorney's Office website has provided a list of the in-home-care or hospice providers that may have been affected by the reported incidents, and has asked former patients or family members of patients treated at those locations to visit the site or call 1-866-480-8230 for updates on the case. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.