CHICAGO (WLS) -- A package delivered by the U.S. Mail sent the ABC 7 I-Team in a dozen different directions looking for answers.
The small padded envelope was addressed to Chuck Goudie at ABC7, postmarked west suburban Oak Park, and was clearly sending a message. There was no return address but what the I-Team found inside the package was at first just puzzling and then became the subject of a full I-Team investigation.
The package was delivered through the ABC7 mail room and inside was a box of prescription fentanyl packages - the potent painkiller, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
"These are things that should be in a pharmacy or in a safe somewhere, leaving things like that around is asking for trouble," said Dr. Richard J. Miller, Ph.D., neuroscience researcher at Northwestern University.
Commercial fentanyl is sometimes prescribed by doctors for severe, chronic or post-surgical pain. Stolen and illegally-made fentanyl is increasingly popular with drug abusers, combined with or instead of heroin, and has resulted in hundreds of overdose deaths in metro Chicago the past year alone.
Abusers and street dealers cut time-release 50mcg (micrograms) patches into strips and ingest the fentanyl gel to get high.
"By law they are supposed to have these precautions. There are very strict state and federal laws that mandate double and triple safeguards so these medicines can be locked up," said Steven Levin, an attorney specializing in nursing home abuse cases.
Who would send this to the I-Team and why? They started running down clues on the package.
First, the name of the patient who was prescribed the drug: Gayle A. Sevcik. At database search for that name in Illinois revealed that she died on February 13 at the age of 75. According to the box, that was two weeks after the fentanyl prescription was filled.
"She got tons of prescriptions. There was a period of time where she was taking three handfuls of medicine each day," said Tomas Sevcik, widower.
Thomas and Gayle Sevcik had been married almost 52 years.
The fentanyl box is also stamped Westchester Health. That is the nursing home where Sevcik was admitted a year ago with lung cancer, diabetes and other ailments. It also had her doctor's name, Emmanuel Paintsil.
Chuck Goudie: "Do you have any idea how that package of fentanyl would have ended up on my desk?"
Dr. Emmanuel Paintsil: "No, I don't know. I don't know what happened."
Paintsil said he prescribed fentanyl following surgery and for bedsores, and that perhaps the box was dropped and someone grabbed it and mailed it to the I-Team.
Goudie: "Is there a problem here with drugs being unsecure and unaccounted for?"
Paintsil: "No, no I mean this is a good facility. One thing I know is they have protocols, uh, you know, to secure the medications and, and I don't know what happened."
In the envelope with the fentanyl, was a handwritten note, stating that "they lay around like candy," a claim Painstil denies.
According to federal ratings of U.S. Nursing Homes, Westchester has one out of five stars - a ranking "much below average."
Chicago attorney Steven Levin handles nursing home abuses cases and said unsecured pain medications are an industry-wide problem.
"Leaving drugs, controlled II substances like fentanyl in the open where multiple people can have access to them is just like drug dealing," Levin said.
Levin's firm has two current bedsore negligence lawsuits against Westchester that the nursing home is fighting.
Dr. Paintsil is also the medical director at Westchester and another nursing home along with working at 14 others, something he said is common.
"I come here once a week. Many doctors come once a month. Some doctors come once every three months," he said.
Paintsil said nursing home doctors operate on faith that their treatment will be carried out.
The administrator of Westchester Health declined to be interviewed for this story. The pharmacy that provided the drugs told us they provide heavily-secured medication carts to nursing homes so that nursing staff can keep opioid drugs locked up when making their patient rounds. The pharmacy has changed the locks on Westchester's medication carts.
The I-Team still hasn't determined who sent the package of drugs. The I-Team also alerted the state Health Department about the package and plans to turn it over to police for proper disposal.
Package of fentanyl mailed to I-Team traced to nursing home
An ABC7 I-Team Investigation