A former veterinarian put pet patients “at risk” by stealing his animal hospital’s supply of an addictive opioid and injecting himself with it in Virginia, federal officials said.
The man, who was his animal hospital’s top surgeon, would replace portions of the stolen drug with different substances and return it to the hospital’s inventory for use during surgeries, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia.
The true purpose of the drug — hydromorphone — was to treat pain in animal patients following surgeries, prosecutors said.
Patrick Gries, 54, of Madison Heights, was sentenced to eight months in federal prison on Wednesday, June 22, after pleading guilty to two charges in connection with him altering VCA Amherst Animal Hospital’s supply of the opioid and distributing it to himself without a prescription , the attorney’s office said in a news release.
“Neither Dr. Gries, nor any surgeon, could be confident in the actual dosage administered to the hospital’s veterinary patients,” court documents state. As a result, some were potentially exposed to “unnecessary pain and suffering.”
McClatchy News reached out to Gries’ attorney for comment on June 23 and was awaiting a response.
Gries, who has “lived a largely upstanding life,” worked at the Amherst County-based animal hospital for nearly 30 years and is accused of feeding “his own drug addiction” by stealing and altering hydromorphone from July 2020 until March 2021, according to short documents.
He is accused of replacing what he stole with saline or butorphanol, which would get mixed with hydromorphone, the news release said.
The Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency and state authorities opened an investigation into Gries and tested some of the alleged “tampered vials,” court documents state.
“The FDA found that the concentration of hydromorphone in these vials varied wildly,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
One vial had less than 1% of hydromorphone after Gries is accused of filling it with something else, according to court documents. Another was discovered to have 88% of the correct drug.
“By tampering with the vials, Dr. Gries introduced the possibility of impurities that could lead to infection,” prosecutors said.
“To be clear, the government has not found evidence that any animal patients actually suffered harm due to the Dr. Gries’ conduct. Nevertheless, the risk of adverse health consequences or death to the animals was certainly present.”
In 2020, Gries developed a pain medication addiction after undergoing surgery and got treatment after his actions at the animal hospital were discovered, court documents state.
“As a result, the history and characteristics of (Gries) weigh towards a lighter sentence,” prosecutors wrote.
There is an “opioid overdose epidemic” in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdoses accounted for the majority of drug overdose deaths in 2020 in the US