Former medic pleads guilty to narcotics and benzos theft

The plea agreement details five instances of morphine theft and use by the former South King County paramedic

By Mike Carter
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — A former South King County paramedic has pleaded guilty to a single count of tampering with consumer products for allegedly stealing morphine and other narcotics from drug vials on Medic One trucks and replacing them with other drugs.

Paul Ahrens is set for sentencing Feb. 4 before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez. While the crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors have agreed they will ask that he serve a year and a day in prison, according to a plea agreement filed Oct. 29 in federal court.

The plea agreement details five instances in November 2013 that Ahrens withdrew amounts of morphine from vials stored on paramedic rescue trucks at three different stations in King County and used the drugs himself.

He would replace the liquid with another substance or drug, including Etomidate, a sedative that would not have provided patients with pain relief and could put them at risk of an allergic reaction.

“Defendant’s conduct created a risk that adulterated medication would be administered to patients,” the plea agreement says, although the risk was diminished by the fact that paramedics are trained to discard any drug vial that appeared to have been tampered with.

In addition to morphine, Ahrens stole and used midazolam and lorazepam, both powerful anti-anxiety drugs stored on the Medic One trucks.

Ahrens came under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) after other paramedics discovered that several vials of the powerful narcotic painkiller — stored in locked safes on Medic One vehicles — appeared to have been tampered with. The plastic tops of several vials appeared to have been broken off and some of the rubber stoppers appeared to have been pierced, according to South King County Medic One Chief John Herbert.

Herbert previously said an investigation turned up no evidence that any patient treated by Medic One paramedics had been harmed as a result of the alleged tampering.

South King County Medic One is a taxpayer-funded public-safety operation that provides emergency-medical response to South King Country residents from eight locations, using specially equipped medic trucks and highly trained paramedics under the supervision of Harborview Medical Center, the University of Washington Medical Center and the Seattle Fire Department.

An internal investigation into the vials pointed to Ahrens, who “was either working in a certain Medic One station the day of or the day before when vials of morphine were turned in because of the fact that plastic protective caps had been off,” according to the charges.

Suspicion increased, Herbert said, after an incident on Nov. 19, 2013, when Ahrens and his partner were dispatched from the Medic 12 station in Enumclaw to a nearby nursing home, where they had already been earlier in their shift. The charges allege that Ahrens had to ask his partner for turn-by-turn instructions to get there, and at the end of the call he drove the ambulance into tree branches and hedges alongside the road without seeming to notice.

His partner suspected he was drunk but could not smell alcohol on his breath, according to court documents.

Later that night, his partner found a paper towel in the trash with a blood stain “consistent with a vein puncture.” His partner checked the narcotics on the truck, and found two morphine vials that appeared to have been tampered with, according to charges.

Herbert told investigators that he confronted Ahrens on Nov. 24, and that the paramedic first denied any involvement with the tampered vials. Twenty minutes, later, however, Ahrens called the chief and said he was responsible for the missing drugs, the charges said.


©2015 The Seattle Times

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