Pain drugs stolen as pa­tients in surgery


Pa­tients’ painkillers were swapped with saline by a drug-abus­ing staff mem­ber while they were on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble at a ma­jor Queens­land hos­pi­tal, and may have es­caped se­ri­ous harm only be­cause of the quick think­ing of doc­tors and nurses.

A court has also heard Bris­bane’s Mater Hos­pi­tal knew Evan Leslie Ka­jew­ski was sus­pected of abus­ing the syn­thetic opi­oid fen­tanyl be­fore the of­fences but al­lowed him to work un­su­per­vised.

Pa­tients were “at their most vul­ner­a­ble” when Ka­jew­ski swiped sy­ringes con­tain­ing fen­tanyl and re­placed them with a use­less saline so­lu­tion, Bris­bane Mag­is­trates Court was told.

“It in­volves in­no­cent peo­ple who were put at risk by (Ka­jew­ski’s) ac­tions,” prose­cu­tor Maria Vas­si­lakos said. “This was pre­med­i­tated, a high level of de­ceit.”

Ka­jew­ski, 40, yes­ter­day pleaded guilty to charges in­clud­ing steal­ing fen­tanyl from the Mater be­tween Fe­bru­ary and May last year and pos­sess­ing the drug.

One 33-year-old pa­tient suf­fered phys­i­o­log­i­cal ef­fects con­sis­tent with the drug switch, when her heart rate and blood pres­sure rose be­fore an anaes­thetist quickly ob­tained fen­tanyl from an­other the­atre and sta­bilised her.

“It was the smart think­ing and quick ac­tions of the anaes­thetist that ... po­ten­tially stopped (the pa­tient) suf­fer­ing any fur­ther con­se­quences,” Ms Vas­si­lakos said.

An­other pa­tient was a 21-yearold cere­bral palsy pa­tient who could not speak and was ad­mit­ted for emer­gency surgery. In that case a nurse told Ka­jew­ski he was not ros­tered that day and no­ticed him chang­ing gloves and act­ing oddly near the trol­ley, so sy­ringes were re­placed be­fore surgery.

A third pa­tient was a “vul­ner­a­ble” 74-year-old who faced the risk of more se­ri­ous con­se­quences be­cause of his age. Tests were done af­ter the oper­a­tion be­cause a doc­tor sus­pected the pa­tient was not ad­min­is­tered fen­tanyl.

Ka­jew­ski’s solic­i­tor Kate McArthur said the hos­pi­tal knew of his men­tal-health is­sues and raised sus­pi­cions he was abus­ing opi­ates be­fore the of­fend­ing.

“They in­ter­viewed him ... over sev­eral meet­ings. They raised those sus­pi­cions and ul­ti­mately he was sim­ply al­lowed to con­tinue on in his role with­out su­per­vi­sion,” she said. “If ap­pro­pri­ate steps had been taken, per­haps we wouldn’t be in this po­si­tion.”

Ka­jew­ski, for­merly a butcher, worked at the hos­pi­tal for 18 months. He had suf­fered a mar­riage break­down, en­tered a “toxic re­la­tion­ship”, de­vel­oped anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion and started “self­med­i­cat­ing” with fen­tanyl, the court heard. He had no crim­i­nal his­tory and was now study­ing to be­come a pri­mary school teacher.

Mag­is­trate Ju­dith Da­ley said it was a se­ri­ous breach of trust and sen­tenced Ka­jew­ski to six months’ jail, to serve two months.

“He was ed­u­cated in this area of anaes­thet­ics so he well knew the risks the pa­tients may have en­coun­tered. He was not, for ex­am­ple, a cleaner tak­ing the fen­tanyl; he was a per­son who was trained in the area,” she said.

A Mater state­ment yes­ter­day said it would “be a breach of Evan’s pri­vacy to fur­ther dis­cuss his per­sonal cir­cum­stances”. Anaes­thetic tech­ni­cians were al­ways su­per­vised by a li­censed prac­ti­tioner, it said.


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