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Former Exeter Hospital Employee Charged In Hepatitis C Outbreak

On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of David Kwiatowski. The 32-year old was arrested at a Massachusetts hospital, where he is receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition. US Attorney John Kacavas says the charges include tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

“What we’ve been able to uncover is evidence that this defendant was diverting Fentanyl, at the least and perhaps other drugs as well.”

An affidavit filed in Federal Court says Kwiatowski’s car contained an empty syringe of Fentanyl and several needles. He was also observed inside Exeter’s Cardiac Catheterization lab engaging in suspicious behavior, including attending procedures on his day off. A witness claims to have seen evidence of needle use on the suspect’s arms.

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful painkillers administered in health care settings, and is considered substantially more potent that morphine.

Exeter Hospital uses an automated system to manage these powerful medications. Only doctors and nurses are supposed to have access.

At a press conference, Jose Montero, New Hampshire’s Director of Public Health, said the outbreak should force all hospitals to review their drug control systems.

“When we are talking about drug diversion, all facilities need to be looking at their policies and procedures…how are they in paper, and how are they implemented.”

Kwiatowski began working at the Exeter Hospital in April of 2011 as a temporary employee. In a statement, the hospital says he was given a drug test and was subject to a criminal background check. Medical technicians in most states, including New Hampshire, do not need any form of licensing. In October 2011, Kwiatowski was hired full time as a medical technician in the Cardiac Cath lab.

Sharron Alroy-Preis, the state’s epidemiologist, says that med techs shouldn’t have access to these types of drugs.

 The role of the technician is usually to help, to assist in a procedure. They are not supposed to handle medication. They are not supposed to administer medication, but to set up the room and handle equipment and things like that.”

Kwiatowski has worked as a medical tech in at least six other states. The CDC, along with Public Health officials, are investigating whether he exposed patients in those locations.

Officials say that he was fired from at least one other position for stealing syringes of Fentanyl.

Kwiatowski told law enforcement he wasn’t aware of his Hepatitis C status until the outbreak was announced in May. Investigators say they have evidence that shows he’s had the disease for at least two years.

This case closely mirrors a 2009 outbreak of the liver-destroying virus at a Colorado hospital. There, a medical technician also reused syringes of Fentanyl, resulting in two-dozen infections.

For her crime, she was sentenced to 30-years in federal prison.

U.S. Attorney Kacavas says he expects more additional charges to be filed against Kwiatowski.

Read the press release from the state attorney's office

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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