BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge today sentenced a former lead technician at a central Alabama pharmacy to five years in prison for tampering with vials of opioid painkillers used in the compounding of intravenous fluid bags intended for terminally ill patients in debilitating pain.
U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor sentenced JOHNATHON WILLIAM CLICK , 30, of Bessemer, on one-count of tampering with consumer products in reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury, and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to that risk. Click pleaded guilty to the charge in November.
“Jonathan Click knew he was inflicting untold pain and suffering on terminally ill cancer patients, yet for two years he diluted their medication and took the opioid drugs for himself,” U.S. Attorney Town said. “Mr. Click is going to prison for his crime, and he will be joined shortly by those like him.”
“Patients deserve to have confidence that they are receiving the proper treatment from those entrusted with providing their medical care,” said FDA Acting Special Agent in Charge Kuehl. “That’s why we must hold medical personnel accountable when they take advantage of their unique position and tamper with drugs needed by their patients, especially when such tampering causes additional pain and suffering for those who are terminally-ill.”
“DEA is committed to investigating and bringing to justice those who divert prescription drugs. Opiate abuse is a major problem across the nation, with over four million Americans addicted to prescription drugs,” DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Hamilton said. “The sentencing of this pharmacy technician should send a clear message to those within the medical profession. DEA will continue to work with our federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory partners to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
Click worked at Birmingham-based ContinuumRx of Central Alabama, which primarily distributes IV bags containing morphine and hydromorphone for palliative care of patients in hospice or homecare. The majority of CRX’s patients were terminally ill with cancer and suffering breakthrough pain. Click, as the lead pharmacy technician, prepared the vast majority of CRX’s IV bags, which helped safeguard his scheme, according to court documents.
Between December 2014 and September 2016, when CRX ended Click’s employment, he removed morphine sulfate and hydromorphone hydrochloride from vials intended for use in mixing IV bags. He diluted the vials to hide his theft, knowing that patients in excruciating pain would receive the diluted pain medication, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum. The document states that Click stole the medication so he could feed his opioid addiction.
“The nature and circumstances of this offense shock the conscience,” the government said in its sentencing memorandum. Click’s victims “were painfully dying – because the defendant tampered with their medicine for his own gratification. In their final days on earth, the defendant denied them the comfort of pain remediation they so desperately needed. The defendant knew what he was doing each time he tampered with those vials of medicine.”
According to the sentencing memorandum and Click’s plea agreement, he surreptitiously removed vials of morphine and hydromorphone from CRX’s locked inventory, withdrew drugs from the vials with a syringe and replaced the withdrawn amount with saline or sterile water. Click then would return the adulterated and diluted vials to the inventory, undetected, and later use the vials to compound IV bags that were distributed and administered to homecare and hospice patients. CRX’s primary customers are Alacare Home Health & Hospice, New Beacon Hospice, Lakeview Homecare & Hospice, Comfort Care Hospice and Kindred Hospice.
DEA, FDA and the Alabama Board of Pharmacy investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib prosecuted.