A private ambulance company, managed by a 'pretend paramedic' and contracted to cover private events and not 111 calls, ordered more than 10 times the amount of fentanyl and double the amount of morphine than the local St John.
Now the manager of the company, Graeme Hugh Erickson, has been sentenced to 12 months home detention after he was caught with Class B drugs in his own home and unlawfully administering it to patients - the result of a Medsafe and Police investigation.
But the Whakatāne man narrowly escaped imprisonment, with a sentence the Judge described as "merciful", flying in the face of a pre-sentence report recommending prison time.
Erickson was today sentenced on two representative charges of both administering and possessing a class B drug - namely morphine and oxycodone.
He was also sentenced on a charge of knowingly altering a document, related to edits he made to patient report forms where he added further quantities of morphine and fentanyl - up to 20 times the amount actually administered.
Both charges stemmed from his time as the general manager of EMC Medical Care, also known as APS Ambulance - a private ambulance company that is legally permitted to provide first-aid.
In court on Tuesday, Erickson, assisted by crutches, hobbled into the dock. His lawyer David Pawson said his client acknowledged the seriousness of "pretending to be a paramedic", and had gotten "carried away".
The offending saw Erickson administer the drugs to members of the public - those patients being unaware of the fact he wasn't qualified to do so.
Erickson was also charged with two counts of knowingly making a false document, namely two falsified university degrees in paramedical science and medicine. Those charges were withdrawn at sentencing.
Lack of rules around private ambos 'surprising' - Judge
The Edgecumbe-based private ambulance service (PAS) contracted its services predominantly to private event organisers and alarm companies.
A (PAS) does not respond to 111 calls, nor is it entitled to subsidised medicines or payment from ACC claims. Before new legislation two years ago, anyone could set up their own PAS - a fact labelled as "surprising" by District Court Judge Christopher Harding.
The company was founded in 2012, and Erickson joined in 2015.
Under rules for PAS, they are not permitted to supply or administer drugs unless they possess a 'standing order' issued by a medical professional.
Only the most senior paramedics, being those with relevant tertiary degrees, can administer drugs.
The eyebrows of authorities were raised when it was discovered the company ordered an average of 82 vials of morphine and a further 80 vials of fentanyl each month.
According to the summary of facts, that was more than double the amount of morphine and 10 times the amount of fentanyl the local branch of St John ordered in the same period - despite St John responding to multiple 111 calls each day.
Court documents obtained by Open Justice show in 2015, the company didn't order any fentanyl and only 100 vials of morphine. But in 2016 the amount of fentanyl ordered shot up to 850, while the amount of morphine increased to 1070 vials - a 1000 per cent increase in the space of 12 months.
Between September 2017 and May 2018, the company ordered more than 1600 vials of both morphine and fentanyl.
The company's self-reporting internal drug register showed 67 per cent of the morphine vials and 74 per cent of the fentanyl vials were discarded - the result of being either "faulty or destroyed by accident". Sixty-four vials were also unaccounted for.
For comparison, St John's records over a 12-month period showed just 1.3 per cent of morphine vials and 5.9 per cent of fentanyl vials were broken.
In July 2018, MedSafe began an audit into the "irregularly high" numbers of drugs the company had ordered.
That investigation progressed, ultimately resulting in police initiating search warrants at Erickson's address, as well as the EMC offices in 2020.
Two liquid bottles of morphine were found in Erickson's home - totalling 56.8 grams. Police also found a plastic syringe and a sealed glass ampule containing the drug oxycodone. There was no evidence that Erickson was selling the drug, nor using the medicine personally.
In handing down his sentence, Judge Harding said the offending represented an "enormous breach of trust".
Pawson told the court his client "got caught up in a rouse and misguidedly believed he was helping the public." The process took on "a life of its own", he said.
Pawson also pointed to Erickson's wife and young family, suggesting a prison sentence would have dire consequences for his family.
But despite a pre-sentence report recommending a sentence of imprisonment, Judge Harding declined to send the man to prison, saying he felt it right to exercise "the prerogative that sits with all Judges" to apply a "merciful result" - a sentence of 12 months home detention.