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Narcotics Replaced at Two Agencies

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. -- In response to American Medical Response training manager John Wilson's admission that he stole vials of narcotics from vehicles and replaced them with saline solution, American Medical Response and former employer Ventura County Fire Department have replaced all medications in stock.

All 11 of the county Fire Department paramedic units ordered new supplies of morphine, Versed and other medications last month, said Chief Rod Megli.

"We replaced all medications on the line, to make sure we were offering citizens the best care, so there was no possibility of any adulterated medication going out," Megli said.

The medication stock at AMR is not supposed to filter to other emergency medical service providers, but Megli said the department didn't want to take any chances. They pulled all medication when they heard of the investigation of Wilson last month.

The state's Emergency Medical Services Authority suspended Wilson on Sept. 18, after he admitted to forging medical logs and stealing narcotics to feed a personal drug addiction while working for AMR, Ventura County's largest ambulance provider. Wilson was a clinical education specialist training manager in AMR's Moorpark office.

Before that, Wilson, 46, of Fillmore, had worked at the county Fire Department from 2001 to 2006 as a paramedic liaison, working with hospitals, the county Emergency Medical Services Agency and paramedics. He would often check on paramedic performance in the field.

Megli said Wilson left when he was offered a position at AMR, where he had worked before coming to the county in 2001. He was not suspected of stealing narcotics while working for the county, Megli said.

Wilson admitted to AMR on Aug. 29 that he took narcotics from AMR vehicles and the company's controlled medication area. He said he took controlled medications - morphine and Versed - and either disposed of the vials or replaced them with saline vials.

The state revoked Wilson's license on Sept. 18.

State emergency medical officials are investigating whether patients who were supposed to be getting morphine or other pain medications were injected with saline instead. Wilson told investigators he had been stealing opiates from his employer for about one year and carefully doctored the seal to hide the tampering.

Wilson said he sought drug treatment in June and stopped stealing but started again the following month, according to the EMSA document.

Wilson is currently in a drug rehabilitation program.

The Star has learned that on April 3, during the time Wilson was stealing narcotics, he crashed his AMR-issued vehicle, a Ford F-250, on his way to an emergency call on South Mountain Road near Fillmore.

According to Officer Mike Untalan, a spokesman with the California Highway Patrol, Wilson was driving to an accident when he reportedly took his eyes off the two-lane road, lost control of the vehicle and landed in a ditch.

Wilson showed no signs of impairment, Untalan said, and an AMR supervisor went to the scene. The truck had "major damage" and was undrivable.

Barry Fisher, Emergency Medical Services administrator for the county's Department of Public Health, said all Ventura County paramedics who are on duty and involved in an accident are required to take a drug test.

AMR spokesman Jason Sorrick confirmed it is company policy to drug-test employees involved in an accident while on duty but would not release any results in Wilson's case. He said "employee privacy laws prevent the disclosure of both the test results and accident investigation files."

Fisher said AMR officials earlier told him verbally that Wilson tested negative for drug use.

It is unclear if the accident documentation is included in the investigation files, which have been handed over to the FBI.

There are 16,000 licensed paramedics in California. According to a 2007 Sacramento Bee inquiry, EMSA investigated more than 65 cases of drug and alcohol abuse among paramedics in 2005 and 2006, compared with eight in 1999-2000.

But official statistics may represent a fraction of the cases because employers are not required to report paramedics who take medical leaves for substance abuse treatment, according to the Bee investigation.

At the end of 2006, 31 California paramedics were on probation for alcohol or drug problems, and 18 more with histories of substance abuse were working under provisional licenses, the Bee reported.

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