Boston EMS paramedic arraigned on 73 counts of tampering with powerful drugs intended for patients

A Boston Emergency Medical Services paramedic suspected of tampering with painkillers had marks on his arms that a nurse thought “looked like drug use’’ and his medical skills eroded as he often displayed erratic behavior, a prosecutor said in court today.

But the defense attorney for Brian Benoit said his client does not have a substance abuse problem, and that records and people’s memories are flawed in the case against him.

Benoit “vehemently and vigorously denies these allegations,’’ attorney Thomas Drechsler said following Benoit’s arraignment in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston today.

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Trial Magistrate Gary D. Wilson read off each charge, which took about five minutes, and Benoit pleaded not guilty 73 times. He is charged with one count of larceny, 26 counts of larceny of a controlled substance, 24 counts of creating a counterfeit substance and 22 counts of manufacturing a class B, C, or E substance.

Wilson allowed Benoit to remain free on personal recognizance and ordered him not to work as an emergency medical technician or paramedic while the case is pending. Benoit, 40, of South Boston resident is due back in court Jan. 7.

Benoit declined comment after the arraignment.

In court, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Michele Granda disclosed that the number of patients who were given allegedly doctored drugs was fewer than originally feared by the Boston Public Health Commission when they made limited public disclosure of this issue earlier this year.

The commission contacted 57 patients who could have received altered medication from Benoit when they were transported in Boston EMS ambulances.

But Granda said today that further investigation had narrowed the number of patients directly affected by Benoit to a total of 10 “patients who actually received diluted substances.’’

Benoit is accused of allegedly tampering with vials of powerful painkillers stored on ambulances. Granda said that co-workers reported seeing marks on Benoit’s arm “that looked like drug use’’ and that he confessed to one co-worker he stole a powerful drug. He also often had bandages on his arms, Granda said.

Granda alleged that Benoit drained powerful drugs from vials, and replaced the missing liquid with saline solution or other fluids in an attempt to mask his thefts.

She said the investigation found that “40 vials of morphine, 45 vials of fentanyl, 10 vials of midazolam, and nine syringes of lorazepam had either a puncture hole in the cap of the vial or a broken seal on the syringe.’’

Granda said that the BMC Pharmacy and Boston EMS kept rigorous control over

Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, which oversees Boston Emergency Medical Services, said policies and protocols have been tightened as a result of the case.

“We have a whole new set of training for all paramedics as to what drug tampering looks like,’’ she said. “From our perspective, what really was important is that we minimize any opportunity for drgus to be tampered with. Now, once you open a sealed packet and use one vial, you have to return the entire vial to the pharmacy, to receive another sealed packet.”

Ferrer said while she can’t comment on Benoit’s work history beyond saying he started as an EMT in 1996 and was promoted to paramedic in 2004, he would have undergone mandatory annual drug testing. Positive tests results in immediate suspension.

Officials at the Boston Public Health Commission, which oversees Emergency Medical Services, told the Globe earlier this year that the paramedic allegedly tampered with the drugs during a six-week period in the summer of 2011.

Benoit has been relieved of all his EMS duties since Sept. 6, 2011, when the tampering was discovered, officials said. As of this morning, Benoit was on unpaid suspension, according to Nick Martin, communications director for the Boston Public Health Commission.

The state Department of Public Health is reviewing the status of Benoit’s paramedic license.

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