An emergency service provider in Victoria has been convicted and fined $400,000 on Thursday for failing to adequately record and store stocks of morphine and fentanyl after a paramedic died of an overdose.
The organisation pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act: one charge of failing to provide a safe working environment and one charge of failing to ensure that volunteer officers were not exposed to risks, and was fined $200,000 on each charge in the Warrnambool Magistrates’ Court.
The paramedic was found dead at the ambulance station in Heywood near Portland in January 2015 by his wife and son. He was the team manager and the only employee at the station.
The Court heard that both fentanyl and morphine were found in his system. He died due to drug toxicity.
The Court heard that the organisation had exposed the paramedic and volunteer officers at the station to their health and safety when they failed to reduce the potential for illicit access to morphine and fentanyl.
An investigation revealed that audits on receipt, movement, administration and disposal of these strong painkillers, which should be carried out every three months were not conducted at the required frequency.
As a result of the incident, the organisation made a number of changes to the management of its drug stocks, including the implementation of a regular check of records to identify any unusual ordering or administration patterns for morphine and fentanyl.
An IBAC investigation last year identified several paramedics who used illicit drugs, including one paramedic who stole and used fentanyl and morphine (Read SafetyCulture’s report here).
Some paramedics were also found misappropriating supplies to inappropriately treat themselves and their families and friends. The conduct extended to paramedics taking bags along with cannulation equipment to treat the symptoms of hangovers.
IBAC recommended a comprehensive review of the use of illicit drugs and misuse of drugs of dependence by the organisation’s employees as well as the development and implementation of a more robust framework to prevent and detect such drug use. It also further recommended the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to examine whether similar vulnerabilities identified in Operation Tone could exist in other Victorian health services.
Ambulance Victoria will provide IBAC with a progress report by 30 March 2018. Both the organisation and DHHS are required to report to IBAC by 28 September 2018 on the implementation of the recommendations.
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