By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — A powdered form of the potent painkiller oxycodone that authorities seized from a Delaware County man last month was smuggled out of the Covidien plant in Hobart where the drug is manufactured, police said Monday.
“We traced the oxycodone back to Covidien,” Delaware County Undersheriff Craig Dumond said.
A Covidien employee is suspected of stealing the drug from inside the plant and transfering it to Robert Willsey, 40, of Harpersfield.
Dumond said the Covidien worker had been sneaking out “a little bit at a time.” That person has been terminated by the company, and charges are expected to be filed against him by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, he said.
Dumond said law enforcement is working with Covidien managers to “address this problem.”
“The abuse of pharmaceutic drugs is a prolific problem in New York,” the undersheriff added.
Willsey’s wife and the mother of the drug suspect’s four young daughters, Joann Willsey, agreed with that assessment when contacted by The Daily Star.
She said she would like to see her husband placed in drug rehabilitation to treat his addiction to prescription drugs. While refusing to discuss the police allegations against her husband, she said she believes Covidien has a rampant problem with internal theft of oxycodone.
“You hear about a lot of people doing it, taking it out of there,” Joann Willsey said. “If they had better security, it probably wouldn’t be getting out of there. In my opinion, that drug should be taken off the market. Nobody should be allowed to have that drug — not even as painkillers.”
She said abuse of pharmaceutical drugs has skyrocketed in the upstate communities with which she is familiar.
“It’s all over the place,” she said. “It’s a very addictive thing.” She said two of her relatives recently went into drug rehabilitation for painkiller abuse.
Covidien spokeswoman Lynn Phillips declined to discuss the alleged theft at the Hobart plant, other than to say: “We are cooperating with law enforcement on this particular matter.”
She declined to discuss the company’s measures for combating internal theft. In response to questions about the amount of oxycodone produced annually at the Hobart plant, the Covidian representative said such information is not divulged by the company.
Oxycodone is an opiod that is the only ingredient in the brand name drug OxyContin. Oxycodone can also be found in other powerful painkillers, such as Percocet.
According to a help-wanted advertisement posted by Covidien on an Internet employment site, the company uses close-circuit television cameras as a security tool at the Hobart plant.
The ad, seeking a security guard, says one duty of the position is to “prevent the diversion of controlled substance via visual and physical inspection of employee’s visitor’s guests and contractors.” The guard would also “control site access and property of all employees, contractors and visitors to the site,” the ad states.
Covidien bills itself as a leading global health care products company that posted revenue of $11.6 billion in 2011 and has 41,000 employees worldwide in more than 65 countries. Its pharmaceutical business is a $2 billion segment in the process of spinning off from company this year.
Authorities said they seized about five ounces of oxycodone from Robert Willsey when he was arrested. That amount of drug has an estimated street value of $50,000, officials said.
Undersheriff Dumond said the arrest of Willsey grew out of the same investigation that led to the indictment by an Otsego County grand jury last month of Dante D. Major, 35, of Hobart, on charges of operating as a major trafficker of oxycodone — a top-grade felony — as well as several lesser charges.
The Star reported two weeks ago that federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials view the abuse of prescription painkillers as a national epidemic. In Otsego County, overdose deaths linked to painkillers exceeded suicides for the past two years, officials said.
Dumond noted that society is paying in many ways for the abuse of painkillers. He noted that prescriptions are often paid for through patients’ Medicaid coverage, a federal health insurance program for poor people.
“The taxpayers are fighting this problem from cradle to grave,” he said, “When you take into account that we’re paying for the insurance, we’re paying for the drug, we’re paying for the criminal defense (when public defenders represent an accused person) and we’re paying for the incarceration of the individuals.”
The attorney for Robert Willsey, David Ricard of Prattsville, declined to comment on the case.