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June 19, 2015

How one tech stole drugs from his hospitals and infected dozens with hep C

Daily Briefing

David Kwiatkowski repeatedly stole painkillers while working as a traveling technician for 19 different hospitals over nearly a decade—yet continuously escaped detection. In a Newsweek story, he tells Kurt Eichenwald how he did it.

Kwiatkowski is now serving a 39-year jail sentence after pleading guilty in 2013 to injecting himself with stolen painkillers and then using the syringes on patients—despite knowing that he was infected with hepatitis C. And while Kwiatkowski has been linked to more than 40 cases of hepatitis C, he is far from the only hospital staffer to have infected patients.

About 30,000 people may have been infected with the disease over the past 10 years after hospital employees injected narcotics that were meant for patients, according to a CDC study. And the theft of narcotics among the 100,000 health care workers that—federal researchers estimate—struggle with prescription drug misuse "is believed to be widespread," Eichenwald writes.

100,000-plus providers struggle with drug addiction—and it's hurting patients

Why does Kwiatkowski say he is coming forward now? To make amends and spur a change. "Somebody has to tell how it's done, how easy it is and how the structure of the hospitals isn't any good to stop it," he explains. "And I guess the only guy who can really do that is me."

Kwiatkowski's strategies

In a six-hour interview with Eichenwald from jail and other exchanges with Newsweek, Kwiatkowski lays out the different strategies he used to steal painkillers at various hospitals:

  • Getting help from a nurse who had access to the drugs.
  • Fishing opioid vials out of the trash.
  • Swapping saline-filled syringes for those filled with fentanyl.
  • Stealing and injecting painkillers before swapping out the needle and refilling the syringe with saline—which is how he infected at least four patients with hepatitis C at one hospital alone.

How Kwiatkowski stayed employed—and avoided arrest

None of the hospitals, he says, filed an official report that could have led to his radiology tech license being revoked. When applying for jobs, Kwiatkowski at times did not mention places he had been caught, and some hospitals refused to disclose information about their former employee.

Pronovost: Hospital staff should be drug tested

Even when hospitals took action, Kwiatkowski still secured other employment. When one hospital fired Kwiatkowski after he tested positive for fentanyl, it told Maxim Staffing Solutions—which placed him at the hospital—that Kwiatkowski had been terminated because of narcotic-related issues.

Maxim responded by ordering Kwiatkowski to take a urine test, which he passed because fentanyl only shows up in blood tests. The agency then put him back on its list of radiology techs available for hire by hospitals.

Later, when another staffing agency—Springboard—deemed Kwiatkowski to not be hirable, another staffing agency got him a job.

In May 2012, things finally changed. After three Exeter Hospital patients were diagnosed with hepatitis C—and the hospital found out that Kwiatkowski also was infected with the disease—Exeter reported the issue to the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services.

In July 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the Marshals Service arrested Kwiatkowski in his hospital room (Eichenwald, Newsweek, 6/18).

The takeaway: David Kwiatkowski, who is serving a 39-year jail sentence for stealing drugs and infecting patients with hepatitis C, explains how he stole narcotics and continued to be hired for hospital jobs—despite repeatedly being caught.

More from today's Daily Briefing
  1. Current ArticleHow one tech stole drugs from his hospitals and infected dozens with hep C

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