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US lab cited for lapse in monitoring drugs

Associated Press / February 18, 2011

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SAN FRANCISCO — Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California failed to keep track of samples of dangerous drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines, opium, and black tar heroin, the Energy Department’s inspector general said in a report yesterday.

Some drugs were missing. But in one case the lab found more opium and black tar heroin than records showed had been purchased legally.

The report said the accounting lapses created “an opportunity for improper or illegal use.’’

Employees at Livermore, one of the federal government’s top science labs, handle as many as 42 different kinds of dangerous drugs, including black tar heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine, and steroids. The drugs are used for biomedical research and forensic science, and in the lab’s health clinic for the treatment of workers there. Workers are required under federal law to track their use closely with penalties that can include fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

The report said employees failed to adequately monitor at least six of the 42 varieties of drugs on site.

A spokesman for the lab said the amount of nearly every controlled substance kept on hand was a gram or less. The samples are kept in a safe and in the case of illicit drugs are mainly used to help law enforcement verify that drugs they have seized as evidence are actually what they appear to be.

Minute amounts of each drug are used to perform the forensic tests, then immediately destroyed, said lab spokesman Jim Bono. He said many of the samples kept in the safe have been around for up to a decade.

“I don’t think that the inspector general’s office said there was anything nefarious going on here,’’ Bono said. “What they pointed out was less than stellar record-keeping. And we agree.’’

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