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Livermore Lab Missing Cocaine, Has Extra Heroin

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 12:33pm
MARCUS WOHLSEN, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California failed to keep track of samples of dangerous drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines, opium and black tar heroin, the Energy Department's inspector general said in a report Thursday.

Some drugs were missing. But in one case the lab found more opium and black tar heroin than records showed had been purchased legally.

The report said the accounting lapses created "an opportunity for improper or illegal use."

Employees at Livermore, one of the federal government's top science labs, handle as many as 42 different kinds of dangerous drugs, including black tar heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine and steroids. The drugs are used for bio-medical research and forensic science, and in the lab's health clinic for the treatment of workers there. Workers are required under federal law to track their use closely with penalties that can include fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

The report said employees failed to adequately monitor at least six of the 42 varieties of drugs on site.

A spokesman for the lab said that the amount of nearly every controlled substance kept on hand was a gram or less. The samples are kept in a safe and in the case of illicit drugs are mainly used to help law enforcement verify that drugs they've seized as evidence are actually what they appear to be.

Minute amounts of each drug are used to perform the forensic tests and then immediately destroyed, said lab spokesman Jim Bono. He said many of the samples kept in the safe have been around for up to a decade.

"I don't think that the inspector general's office said there was anything nefarious going on here," Bono said. "What they pointed out was less than stellar record keeping. And we agree."

Officials with the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which operates the labs, told the inspector general they agreed that a more rigorous tracking system was needed. Associate NNSA Administrator Gerald Talbot Jr. wrote in a letter that Livermore managers "immediately" changed their inventory procedures after the inspector general reported problems to them last month and are making further improvements through June. Talbot also noted that Livermore's analytical lab has not purchased any drugs for forensic science in at least two years, but inspectors said missing records meant there was no evidence this was true.

The inspector general said there were missing quantities of an amphetamine known as MDA that disappeared between 2004 and 2009. But the report found five times more opium and 20 times more black tar heroin at the lab than records could account for. "Livermore was in possession of additional quantities of high risk controlled substances without any documentation showing that they existed," the report said, adding that sloppy record-keeping meant that "responsible personnel were not in a position to determine if controlled substances were purchased and then misused or misappropriated."

Lab spokesman Bono said that scientists at the lab believe that the heroin's dramatic weight increase may have simply resulted from the drug sample absorbing moisture from the air.

The inspector general's report said records showed the lab had 12 milligrams of heroin on hand. The actual weight of the sample was 244 milligrams.

Inspectors found records at the lab for "one bottle" of cocaine hydrochloride but no references to the amount inside; it also found references to two additional shipments of cocaine hydrochloride in 2006 but it was unclear whether those shipments ever arrived.

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