WESTBROOK – A 23 year old mentally handicapped woman residing at Vista Vocational Life and Skills Center was the victim of medicine tampering by a worker at the facility.
According to the arrest affidavit at Middlesex Superior Court, Cheri Oman, of Preston, was caught on videotape stealing the alleged victim’s medication and identified by Linda Rogan, Director of Student Services at Vista.
Oman is a 45-year-old white female with shoulder length colored hair whose duties as overnight team leader included ensuring clients were safe and were accounted for was working at Vista since September 2004.
The victim’s mother began to realize her daughter was acting unusual in April 2006 when she stayed in bed all day and had severe fatigue.
The victim, who is taking Focalin, a stimulant which is a purer form of Ritalin, Effexor, an anti-depressant, and Abilify, an anti-psychotic, are all meant to keep her active and motivated.
The mother called her daughter’s physician, Dr. Paul Weigle, who could not explain why the daughter was constantly tired.
The mother said her husband picked up three prescriptions on June 26 at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton and brought them to Vista placing them in her daughter’s backpack.
On June 28, the mother claims in the arrest affidavit, five Abilify tablets were missing.
This is when the mother’s suspicions began that someone at Vista was taking her daughter’s medication.
The mother examined her daughter’s medication on July 9 by putting it up to sunlight and saw that one of the Focalin capsules was half empty and the Effexor capsules were half empty.
The mother said a white powdery substance was in one of the capsules but according to pharmacist Jeff Messina of Fort Hill Pharmacy, the pills are supposed to consist of white micro pellets.
The prescriptions were refilled at the pharmacy and the pillbox was replaced.
On July 14, the mother noticed that at least one of the Focalin’s capsules were half empty so she switched the pillbox with one with uncontaminated medication from home.
The mother said her daughter was no longer sedated when given the noncontiminated medication.
On July 17, the mother said the Focalin capsules were again filled with another substance so the doctor called in a new prescription.
The mother acted on her own in purchasing a covert motion activated camera on July 24 and hid it in an air purifier in her daughter’s room.
On July 28, the camera recorded Oman bending down toward the nightstand and extending her arm.
After viewing the footage, the mother believed Oman took or returned something from the nightstand.
Oman was seen on video on August 4 with a flashlight bending down toward the nightstand while on August 11 footage showed her looking on the nightstand and searching the victim’s pocketbook.
Oman did not realize the victim’s pillbox was moved to the top drawer of the nightstand, the mother said.
At first, Oman denied allegations until being told about the camera.
She then admitted to stealing the Focalin capsules and replacing them with Effexor and aspirin.
According to police records, Oman said she was “was not getting a lot of sleep and was having trouble staying awake at night.”
Several months ago, Oman said she started to go into the victim’s room to take the pills after midnight when the victim and her roommate were asleep.
Going into the staff room with the pills, Oman said she would remove some Focalin from each capsule and place the contents into an empty pill vial making four pills.
Oman said she never thought anyone would notice the capsules contained less medicine than normal.
The mother saved the contaminated pills and the police sent these to the Controlled Substance Toxicology Laboratory who determined aspirin and Effexor was placed in some of the pills while others had inconsistent amounts of medication.
According to the affidavit, Weigle said Oman’s tampering with the victim’s Effexor could have forced the victim to relapse into depression and aggressive behavior or experience withdrawal.
“We take this type of incident very seriously,” said Helen Bosch, Executive Director of the Vista Vocational and Life Skills Center, adding this is an ongoing police investigation.
“It is not uncommon for Vista students to be able to hold their own medications, when they have demonstrated the ability to do so, but Vista has a zero tolerance policy for any individual, employee, or student, tampering with another’s medications,” Bosch said.
Debbie Quinn, Director of Finance and Administration, told police Oman had been terminated, according to the affidavit.
Oman is charged with two counts of reckless endangerment in the first degree, two counts of assault in the second degree, sale of narcotics, and illegal possession.
Bosch said Vista is a training program for 170 adults with neurological disabilities which prepare them to “live in the community as functional and independent participants.”
Approximately 90 percent of Vista students are employed in the shoreline communities, Bosch said.
Vista has training facilities and residential facilities in Guilford, Madison, Clinton, and Westbrook.