Jaime Peña While participating in an Interchange 2014 panel discussion on criminal prosecutions for drug counterfeiting and drug diversion, Jaime Peña, Assistant U.S. Attorney/Senior Litigation Chief, Criminal Division, Colorado District, U.S. Department of Justice, tells a disturbing story of hospital-based drug diversion.

Panel 2 at Interchange 2014, was titled “Patient Safety and Criminal Prosecutions in the U.S.” Three federal prosecutors shared insights from their recent counterfeit and misbranded drug prosecutions. AUSA Jaime Peña described several incidents at Colorado hospitals where hospital employees diverted opiates for their personal use, exposing unwitting patients to infections and bloodborne pathogens.

AUSA Peña described how the case of Ashton Dagle first came under investigation. “We had essentially received a cold call from law enforcement in Colorado regarding the potential diversion or theft of fentanyl (a very strong opiate used as anesthesia during surgery.)…Because it involved fentanyl and it was a hospital setting, we had concerns about what happened to the fentanyl and how it was administered.”

He continued, “ During the course of the investigation we found that Ashton Dagle (who was actually a fairly young man, he was under 30 years old), had been diverting fentanyl by accessing the Pyxis machine [an automated medication management system] at the hospital where he worked. He was accessing the Pyxis machine and obtaining the vials of fentanyl…about 15 times a day. And for anyone who knows anything about opiates, for us it would be a lethal dosage.”

“It was very difficult to believe that an individual could steal 15 bottles a day and not be distributing it. So initially, we thought this was a distribution case.”

AUSA Peña also described how Dagle was able to get away with the theft as long as he did. “He would access it, inject it into himself, re-inject saline solution, and then what was interesting about what he did, he was very smart, he took the vials, and the vials come with a spinning cap to prevent tampering, he would take surgical glue and glue the spinning cap back on so that if somebody then accessed the Pyxis machine and accessed some of those vial, they wouldn’t really readily identify that as a vial that had been tampered with.”

AUSA Peña also pointed out the serious patient concerns saying “all those surgeries during that period of time, during those 30 days were exposed to the counterfeit or contraband fentanyl.”

To watch AUSA Peña’s presentation in its entirety, click here.

By S. Imber