TACOMA, Wash. – A local paramedic has been arrested and accused of stealing powerful pain medications from ambulances.
The investigation highlights yet another sign of our region’s opioid epidemic.
The nine-year veteran of West Pierce Fire & Rescue (WPFR) was accused of emptying vials of narcotics, then refilling the same bottles with saline solution.
The missing narcotics from the ambulances were morphine and fentanyl. Now investigators believe there could be patients who had been injected with something other than painkillers.
The investigation began about a month ago. Fire officials at first thought the bottles and needles filled with medication were faulty – but soon discovered they had been tampered with.
Q13 News has not named the suspect because he has not been officially charged with a crime – but he was arrested at this week while on duty and booked into the Pierce County Jail.
“It’s shocking,” said WPFR Chief Jim Sharp, “We’re all just trying to take it in.”
Sharp said he and his staff in University Place were stunned to learn one of their own was accused of stealing powerful narcotics.
“It’s always difficult to see good people get drawn down into a very tragic series of events and we’re kind of seeing that right now in our own organization,” he said.
The accused paramedic was one of only a handful of people inside the department who had codes to access the painkillers from ambulances.
In some cases, officials believe the man would completely empty the bottle only to refill it with saline solution.
“Unwittingly, other paramedics may have given this to patients not knowing that they’d been tampered with,” said Pierce County sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer.
Most people have heard of morphine, but its cousin fentanyl is even more powerful. Investigators believe their suspect could be an addict.
“We know that he was using the drugs himself so we’re going to guess there was an addiction of some kind,” said Troyer.
Officials discovered the thefts about a month ago but they were not sure how long they had been happening.
Sheriff’s detectives said they would continue investigating how many people may have been affected by the suspect’s actions. Now a trusted medical professional is accused of violating the trust of his patients and co-workers.
“They put their lives in each other’s hands and they really value and trust each other like family members,” said Sharp. “That’s why it’s become exceptionally hard for all our employees to try to understand what’s going on right now.”
The suspect could be arraigned in Tacoma on Tuesday.