BIRMINGHAM – The U.S. Attorney’s Office today charged the former lead technician at a central Alabama pharmacy with tampering with vials of opioid painkillers used in the compounding of intravenous fluid bags intended for hospice and homecare patients. U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton and Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, Special Agent in Charge Justin D. Green announced the charge.
Prosecutors filed a one-count information charging JOHNATHON WILLIAM CLICK with 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. Between December 2014 and September 2016, Click, 30, of Bessemer, removed morphine sulfate and hydromorphone hydrochloride from vials intended for use in mixing IV bags. Click replaced the drugs with another liquid, knowing the diluted vials would be dispensed to patients, according to the charge.
In conjunction with the information, prosecutors also filed a plea agreement with Click in U.S. District Court. According to the plea agreement, Click worked at Birmingham-based ContinuumRx of Central Alabama. CRX primarily distributes IV bags containing morphine and hydromorphone for palliative care. Click, as the lead pharmacy technician, prepared the vast majority of CRX’s IV bags until the company ended his employment in September 2016.
“This defendant was willing to subject terminal cancer patients to intolerable pain in order to feed his own addiction,” Town said. “This is one more aspect of the epidemic problem America has with abuse of prescription opioids. It also is a testament to law enforcement’s commitment to fight the illegal diversion of these drugs. In this case, people who desperately needed the prescribed drugs for their intended purpose of controlling intense and prolonged pain instead suffered at the hands of a man who knew the misery he could cause.
“It is disappointing when assumed professionals, like pharmacy technicians, are engaged in the diversion of controlled substances,” Hamilton said. “Anyone who can deliberately deny medication to legitimate patients and violate their duties as a professional will be held accountable for allowing these good medicines to get into the wrong hands. The charge and plea agreement in this case are the result of DEA’s continued commitment to work with our law enforcement partners and hold accountable those who participate in illegally diverting controlled substances in our communities,” Hamilton said.
“FDA is fully committed to the vigorous criminal investigation and prosecution of any individual who threatens the safety and security of the U.S. drug supply,” Green said. “The plea agreement in this case sends a clear signal that this kind of illicit tampering activity will not be tolerated.”
According to the plea agreement, Click diverted quantities of morphine and hydromorphone from CRX’s locked inventory by surreptitiously removing vials, withdrawing drugs from the vials and replacing the withdrawn amount with saline or sterile water. He subsequently would return the adulterated and diluted vials to the inventory, undetected, and later used those 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.
Former patients or family members of patients treated at any of those homecare or hospice providers between December 2014 and September 2016 may receive updates on the case by visiting the U.S. Attorney’s Office website at http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndal/us-v-johnathon-william-click or calling the toll-free number: 1-866-480-8230.
The maximum penalty for tampering with consumer products is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Click must appear before a federal judge to formally enter a guilty plea.
DEA, FDA and the Alabama Board of Pharmacy investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib is prosecuting.