Surgical Technician's Stolen Fentanyl Spree Highlights Hospitals Failure To Report Drug Theft

By McCarton Ackerman 05/26/16

Multiple facilities are facing backlash after choosing to remove the technician from staff rather than report his fentanyl theft to the police. 

Surgical Technician's Stolen Fentanyl Spree Highlights Hospital Failure To Report Drug Theft

When surgical technician Rocky Allen got caught trying to steal fentanyl using potentially dirty syringes, it did more than cause alarm among thousands of patients—it highlighted how hospitals across the country are failing to report employee drug theft. 

Court documents show that Allen has a blood-borne illness, though the specific illness has not been revealed publicly, according to local news station KING 5. Colorado's Swedish Medical Center notified 2,900 potentially infected patients after the incident, urging them to get tested for HIV and hepatitis. Allen's history reveals, however, that this wasn't the first time the surgical tech got busted for stealing fentanyl. The first recorded incident occurred in Afghanistan, where he was caught stealing 30 vials of fentanyl at the hospital where he worked as a corpsman.

After that, he worked as a surgical technician in five different facilities throughout Washington, California, and Arizona. According to KING 5, all of these facilities either accused him of stealing fentanyl or caught him in the act, but chose to fire him instead of notifying police. Once he was let go, he found employment elsewhere.

Apparently, it's not uncommon for medical facilities to choose to fire drug diverters rather than turn them in to authorities. Some say it's a matter of avoiding negative publicity, while according to others, supervisors feel uneasy about addressing a law enforcement issue. 

According to James Avery, an attorney representing patients who may have been exposed to disease by Allen, a coworker in Phoenix found Allen "passed out in a bathroom stall" with an "empty syringe in his right hand," yet nobody alerted police. Lawsuits have since been filed in all four states where Allen worked.

Allen will return to federal court next month to face charges of tampering with a consumer product—which could result in 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine—and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and deceit—which could result in a four year sentence and a $250,000 fine. 

In December 2013, former medical technician David Kwiatkowski was sentenced to 39 years in prison after stealing fentanyl and injecting himself with it, then using the syringes on his patients. Having been diagnosed with hepatitis C, he sparked a multi-state outbreak of the virus that resulted in at least 45 people being infected. He had previously been fired from an Arizona hospital in April 2010 after a coworker found him passed out in a bathroom with a syringe in the toilet.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.