SPRINGFIELD, MASS. >> A Brattleboro man who pleaded guilty for stealing pain medication from a dispensing machine at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield was sentenced in U.S. District Court to two years of probation, which includes three months of home confinement.
In January, Daniel Herlocker, 41, pleaded guilty to acquiring and obtaining controlled substances by deception and subterfuge.
During his plea hearing, Herlocker told the judge he regretted his actions.
"There were so many times when I went in and fully knew what I was doing was horrendous," Herlocker told the judge, as reported by The Republican of Springfield. "I fought it a number of times and did not go through with my actions. Addiction is a horrible thing."
Herlocker was a nurse for 11 years before he was fired from Baystate. He was also well known in the Brattleboro area for his charitable work in Africa.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, in the fall of 2014, while Herlocker was employed as a nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, he diverted Dilaudid, also known as hydromorphone, and morphine from sterile cartridge units known as carpujects. The carpujects were stored in an automated drug dispensing machine. Herlocker syphoned the drugs from the carpujects with sterile needles and replaced the medications with sterile saline solution.
"This case was brought as part of the federal response to the growing opioid abuse epidemic in Massachusetts and other New England states," stated the press release. "Theft of controlled substances by medical professionals not only puts patients at risk when they are deprived of their medication, but also fuels the pipeline of illegal prescription opioids."
Herlocker could have received up to eight years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
In late 2014, the Reformer wrote a story about Herlocker's planned January 2015 trip to Rwanda to help build homes with money that had been donated for the cause by families, friends and strangers. In January 2014, he and his wife traveled to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, and learned about the program to build homes through Rwanda Sustainable Families.
"Last year, it was probably the best human experience I've ever had," Herlocker told the Reformer in December 2014. "It was just people coming together for the purposes of good and it felt wonderful to be a part of it."
On Jan. 7, he told U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni that he took a sterile needle to withdraw the drugs from an automated syringe, secreted them into containers for his own use then refilled the syringes with saline. He then resealed the packaging with Krazy Glue, Herlocker said. Another nurse on the unit discovered the theft when he or she suspected one of the carpujects appeared to have been tampered with. The hospital conducted an audit and discovered "an unusual number" of orders and subsequent cancellations for the drugs by Herlocker, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Goodwin.
Herlocker told Mastroianni that he intended to steal the drugs for his own use on approximately 100 occasions over three or four months in 2014, but reconsidered about half the time.
Goodwin told the court investigators could not identify any patients who were necessarily harmed by the theft, as it was unclear which syringes were administered to which patients.
As result of Herlocker's actions, Baystate conducted an investigation and tightened its rules related to the dispensing machine.
During his plea hearing, Herlocker said he regretted the damage he did to his career and Baystate.
"I clearly enjoyed my profession. I've helped people pass away peacefully. I've helped people survive heart attacks. I've been there when babies were born ... I violated the trust of Franklin Medical Center, my patients and my own integrity. Every day I participate in (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous). There isn't anything I want to do more than deal with these addictive tendencies. I am very, very apologetic for my actions."
The U.S. Attorney's Office Springfield Branch Office was assisted by investigators with the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, New York Field Office and the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Division of Food and Drugs, Drug Control Program.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.