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Amish abduction leads to medical center drug investigation

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Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center officials are conducting an internal investigation into the possibility that Stephen M. Howells II, a suspect in the abduction of two Amish girls this month, stole drugs from the hospital while he was employed there.

Mr. Howells, 39, of 1380 County Route 21, is suspended from the Ogdensburg hospital where he has been employed since 2006, working in the emergency department. He joined the Thomas T. Patterson Wound Healing Center staff in May.

Claxton-Hepburn spokeswoman Laura C. Shea said while the hospital cannot comment on the specifics of Mr. Howells’s case, patient medications are kept securely in a computerized storage system called Omnicell.

Any registered nurse in any hospital has access to administer drugs within their scope of practice, Ms. Shea said. Those nurses have to access that piece of equipment that holds the medication.

“The system allows for an inventory of drugs to be maintained and monitored (and) that is where the checks and balances come in,” Mrs. Shea said. “When a registered nurse needs to administer a controlled substance but does not use it completely, the nurse is required to waste the leftover medication while being witnessed by another licensed professional.”

While the procedures help ensure medications are handled and dispensed appropriately, Mrs. Shea said, hospital officials know that if the desire is great enough, an individual will find a way to obtain medications.

“But the system is designed to act as a barrier to the misuse of medications,” Mrs. Shea said. “Thankfully this doesn’t happen very often but we have systems in place that document the inventory of drugs and how and when they are administered to a patient, so we can go back and look at those.”

As the internal investigation continues into Mr. Howells’s alleged actions, Ms. Shea said the hospital has been and is continuing to cooperate fully with the active investigation.

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