Anesthetist charged with stealing drugs at Floyd County Medical Center

By Bob Steenson, bsteenson@charlescitypress.com

A certified registered nurse anesthetist working under contract for the Floyd County Medical Center has been charged in federal court with allegedly stealing narcotics from the hospital last year, including ordering additional medication for a patient during surgery so he could take the portion of the drug that was left over.

Christopher Scott West, age 44, of Charles City, was charged Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Waterloo with three counts: tampering with a consumer product; possession of a firearm by a drug user; and acquiring and attempting to acquire a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception and subterfuge.

West appeared in court Thursday morning for an initial appearance and arraignment. He was represented by attorney Alfred E. Willett of Waterloo and he pleaded not guilty to all three charges. West was released on his own recognizance.

A grand jury indictment filed Tuesday alleges that West used his position as a certified registered nurse anesthetist to gain access to fentanyl and sufentanil during a period of February 2018 through about Sept. 7, 2018, while working at the Floyd County Medical Center.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid painkiller that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Sufentanil is also an opioid that can be used to treat pain or used along with anesthesia during surgery or childbirth, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The drugs were intended for patients at the hospital who were under West’s care and the care of other medical professionals, but West took the drugs for “his own illicit drug use,” the indictment says.

The indictment says that West also administered a particular, additional method of anesthesia to a patient undergoing laparoscopic surgery in order to obtain a controlled substance drug that was left over after the patient’s surgery.

“The patient in the laparoscopic surgery suffered complications from the surgery and required additional time at the hospital,” the indictment says.

Rod Nordeng, Floyd County Medical Center administrator, told the Press that West began working at the medical center in July 2017 as an independent contractor to provide anesthesia services.

Nordeng said the hospital notified law enforcement of a incident on Sept. 7, 2018, and terminated West’s contract that same day. The medical center has been working with federal and state authorities since then, he said.

“The actions of Mr. West as an independent contractor do not represent the compassionate and professional physicians, employees and volunteers of FCMC who are committed to caring for patients,” Nordeng said in a statement.

West used his privileges at the medical center to obtain vials of fentanyl and sufentanil which were in secure storage, the indictment says. He would “thinly cut tamper-proof paper around the vials and carefully open the vials,” it says.

“West would then replace no less than 88 percent of the declared value of these consumer products with a liquid other than fentanyl and sufentanil,” then glue the vials shut and return them to secure storage where they could be used for patients.

In addition to the charges of tampering with a consumer product and the theft of the narcotics, West is charged with possession of a firearm by a drug user, for allegedly being an unlawful user of a controlled substance and having in his possession two pistols, four rifles and a shotgun.

The indictment also asks that if West is convicted of the drug theft charge that he forfeit his Iowa licenses as a certified registered nurse anesthetist and as a registered nurse.

The trial in this case has initially been set for May 6 in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.

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