Mehlville fire district deputy chief faces seven felony controlled substance counts
The Mehlville Fire Protection District has come up with some clear — or saline — solutions to safeguard itself and the public from drug tampering by employees, according to Chief Ray Haddock.
Greg Harwood, deputy chief for emergency medical services and a district employee since 1985, was charged last week with six separate counts of stealing a controlled substance and one count of possession of a controlled substance for incidents that allegedly occurred every month between November 2003 and May 2004.
The counts total seven Class C felonies. A Class C felony carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
Harwood, who was responsible for obtaining controlled substances from St. Anthony's Medical Center for Mehlville ambulance workers to assist in patient treatment, "became addicted to controlled substances and began to order more controlled substances from St. Anthony's than MFPD required and to use them himself," according to a Probable Cause Statement of Facts signed by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force Officer Mike Otten.
"Hospital and MFPD records establish that in each of the months ... defendant ordered substantially more morphine from St. Anthony's than he reported ordering to MFPD," the report stated. "Arrested and Mirandized, defendant admitted to complainant stealing morphine from MFPD in each of these six months and trying to cover up the thefts by falsifying paperwork and by filling morphine vials that he had used with normal saline solution and putting the bogus vials in the controlled substance storage cabinet or on the ambulances."
Haddock confirmed that the district discovered discrepancies "during a routine check" between Mehlville paperwork and St. Anthony's Medical Center paperwork in May and district officials immediately contacted authorities, of which the DEA led a subsequent investigation.
Harwood was arrested at 8 p.m. May 5 at his Oakville residence and found in possession of midazolam, a pain killer and amnesic, "the defendant had diverted for his own use," the report stated.
The district's three-member Board of Directors voted unanimously to "affirm the recommendation of Chief Ray Haddock to suspend indefinitely without pay Deputy Chief Greg Harwood, effective May 6, 2004," according to the board's vote taken in a May 17 closed session.
Haddock told the Call Friday that locks immediately were replaced and security codes were changed, of which Harwood had prior access to obtain certain paperwork. Now only two employees in the district have access to those records, he said.
As early as May 6, the district implemented a new policy that whenever Mehlville picks up a controlled substance from St. Anthony's Medical Center, at least two fire district employees must be present, Assistant Chief/EMS Phil Minella told the Call Friday.
Before the policy was implemented, one employee being present was acceptable.
In Harwood's absence, Minella has taken on more EMS supervisory responsibilities and other duties have been shifted throughout the district.
After discovering the alleged drug tampering, Minella said the district removed all substances from the ambulances, gave them back to St. Anthony's and replenished the trucks with new stock.
The district also conducted an internal investigation to determine if any patients had suffered as a result of morphine vials being replaced with saline.
"We feel very comfortable at this point" that no one was harmed because of any drug tampering on Mehlville ambulances, Haddock said.
The district also will continue with its annual mandatory drug screening, Haddock said.
Asked if Harwood had passed prior years' drug tests, the fire chief replied, "Well, I can't tell you if he passed or failed, but I can tell you that he has always taken a drug test and has continued to be an employee here."
While the report alleges Harwood had altered vials since November 2003, Haddock said the department has no information that would indicate if tampering occurred before that time.
"It's such a disappointment," he said. "You have trust in people after working with them for 18 years. Then to discover something that violates the respect of the public ... because of personal problems ... We see tragedies every day as an employer ... in fire services. We feel sorry for any individual going through such a personal tragedy."
In recent months, he said the district has been cooperating with the DEA in its investigation.
He said he did not know if a conviction would have to occur before the board would consider terminating Harwood.
Board members need to be presented with more information in closed session before any decision is made on the matter, he said.
The fire district currently is conducting a public engagement process that could lead to some type of ballot measure being placed before voters in November. The district has funded a community opinion survey and formed the Fire District Advisory Committee for Tomorrow's Emergency Services, or FACTS, which has been meeting regularly to inform residents of the district's needs.
Haddock said he does not believe the district's image will suffer as a result of the allegations against Harwood.
"I hope people realize ... that drug abuse is a dangerous problem for every employer in the United States," Haddock said.
The department has attempted to take every precaution necessary to ensure that similar abuse does not occur again, the chief added, noting that the incident has "not affected job performance."