According to documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, more than 13,000 controlled substance pills disappeared from Sovah Health-Danville over two years beginning in 2017. Federal authorities have since accused a former hospital pharmacy technician with using a loophole in the hospital’s electronic dispensing system to pilfer the medication.
Paulette G. Toller, of Chatham, is charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and one count of obtaining controlled substances by fraud. The hospital suspended Toller in June following an in-house investigation of the missing medication, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Danville.
Sovah Health-Danville would not comment on Toller’s current status or the case.
“It is in our policy that we are unable to comment or provide information related to employee matters,” hospital spokeswoman Kelli Clay wrote in an email. “Due to confidentiality, we cannot provide information related to this situation or any employee matter.”
Toller could not be reached for comment and neither of her defense attorneys — one based in Abingdon and another in Roanoke — returned calls and emails seeking comment.
Hospital staff began investigating June 11 after catching a discrepancy concerning Percocet 5mg during a weekend shift, states the criminal complaint, filed by DEA agent M. Patrick Long.
“As a pharmacy technician, TOLLER’s duties include removing controlled substances from the main pharmacy automated dispensing system (hereinafter “ADS”) and placing the controlled substances in various ADS machines throughout the hospital,” Long wrote.
Investigating staff noted that Toller had used an invalid nursing code in the automatic dispensing system. This caused staff to look into her previous transactions.
“Toller had found a ‘loophole’ in the software program that allowed her to withdraw controlled substances from the hospital’s ADS under previous codes that were now invalid,” Long wrote.
Sovah Pharmacy staff created a computer-generated report outlining all the transactions that Toller is accused of conducting with the inactive codes. The report revealed she “illegally obtained two syringes of oxycodone liquid and a total of 13,422 controlled substance pills.”
After the discovery, the hospital contacted the DEA on June 12. The next day, hospital staff confronted Toller and she admitted pocketing the medication beginning June 2017 “for personal use due to knee pain,” the criminal complaint states.
The hospital suspended Toller the very same day, Long wrote.
Though Toller is charged with two felony counts, her pharmacy technician’s license is still active, according to the Virginia Department of Health Professions.
Department of Health Professions spokeswoman Diane Powers wrote that “Violations of laws or regulations governing the practice of pharmacy that endangers the public can be cause for any of Virginia’s 13 health regulatory boards, to take disciplinary action against the license of a practitioner.”
Toller has a jury trial scheduled for Oct. 3 in U.S. District Court in Danville.
Avent is a reporter with the Danville Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 797-7983.