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Police Probe Cocaine Surgery

‘Illegal to perform procedure to remove drugs and not report it to authorities’

By By Camille Bethel camille.bethel@trinidadexpress.com

An investigation has been launched into the circumstances sur­rounding surgery performed on a man to remove 17 cocaine pellets from his stomach at a private me­dical institution, national security sources confirmed yesterday.

Top law-enforcement sources also said it was illegal for the private hospital to perform the surgery in De­cember to remove the cocaine pellets and not report it to the police.

National security and law-enforce­ment sources said yesterday a probe has commenced into the matter.

Speaking with the Sunday Express on the issue, which was reported exclusively in the Express yesterday, one source said: “Just like if a man is shot and goes to a medical institution to seek medical attention, it is the duty of the hospital to report that; if they don’t report it, it is an offence.”

“The article removed from his sto­mach was an illegal article and it is procedural that (the hospital) should inform the police,” the source added.

The private hospital failed to re­port the incident where the pellets of cocaine were surgically removed from the abdomen of the man who had swallowed them and fallen ill.

In an attempt to smuggle the nar­cotic, valued at millions of dollars, the 34-year-old man had ingested 20 pellets of cocaine, which almost cost him his life.

Sources told the Express the man, who lives in Arouca, was taken to a private hospital by a relative after complaining of stomach pains and bowel obstruction.

On December 21, 2013, the man underwent a laparotomy—a sur­gi­cal incision into the abdominal cavi­ty

—where the cocaine was found meti­culously packaged into pellets.

The surgery, which started at 5 p.m., lasted for close to three hours and was conducted by a team of five—

a surgeon leading three nurses and an anaesthetist.

Sources claimed instructions were given by the surgeon to the medical staff not to take any pictures of the pellets and to package them in a reseal­able storage bag. The illegal drug was handed back to the man.

The entire procedure was done under a cloak of secrecy but left staff

at the hospital shocked and con­cerned. 

Nine days later and after close to $100,000 in medical and hospital fees,

on December 30, 2013, the man was transferred from the private hospital to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope.

Sources at the Mt Hope hospital on Friday told the Express the man’s condition was improving and he was currently in an adult medical ward.

The Express was told the man was resting comfortably and was referred to a surgical team for further examination at the hospital.

Contacted on Friday, one of the direc­tors of the board of the private hospital said he was not aware of the matter and it was the first time he was hearing of it when questioned by the Express.

He said it is the law that the police be called in when illegal drugs are found but stressed he was “clueless” as to this case.

When contacted on the issue yes­ter­day Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan said there was nothing that the ministry could do with regard to such an issue.

“The thing about it, all the Ministry of Health does is give out private hos­pital licences; really and truly, there is no legislation that the ministry could use for anything like this. All we really do is deal with policies and private institutions. We have to ask for the information, they don’t have to give it to us. There is no law allowing us to

demand it. We can do it in public insti­tutions through legislation,” he said during a phone interview.

Khan said there was the reassess­ment of private medical institutions by a committee and that was ongoing.

“As we speak, I know that there are

people from the quality department, public health institutions, to make sure it is running effectively. 

“However, what has been reported in the newspaper is not for us. That is a matter for investigation at different levels. It is a concern at the end of the day,” he said.  

Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams said yesterday he could not respond to what he called a “hypothetical” issue.

“I can’t comment on something that I don’t know about. If there is an article in the newspaper, a front-page story, having told me about it, I will go and check the paper and then I will be able to have the appropriate action taken, but I am not commenting hypothetically,” he said. 

—additional reporting by 

Anna Ramdass

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