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Customs and Border Protection's top doctor tried to order fentanyl lollipops for helicopter trip to U.N., whistleblowers say

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The chief medical officer for the Customs and Border Protection agency repeatedly asked staff members to order fentanyl lollipops for him to take on a helicopter mission to the United Nations in New York City in Sept. 2023, according to a whistleblower report by the Government Accountability Project.

The report was shared with Congress on Friday morning, and stated that Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexander Eastman allegedly "spent copious hours of his and Office of the Chief Medical Officer staff time directing the OCMO staff to urgently help him procure fentanyl lollipops, a Schedule II narcotic, so that he could bring them on the CBP Air and Marine Operations helicopter on which he would be a passenger in New York City."  

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and painkiller driving the overdose crisis in the United States. Fentanyl lollipops are an oral version of the drug, and are used to treat pain, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Chief among the Customs and Border Protection's duties as a federal agency is stopping the flow of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, into the United States over international borders

When asked why he would need fentanyl lollipops to travel to the United Nations' General Assembly meeting, Eastman allegedly argued that the lollipops would be necessary for pain management in case of an emergency, and were "necessary" in case a CBP operator was injured, or if the Air and Marine Operations team encountered a "patient in need." 

Over half a dozen CBP employees were involved in the "urgent" requests to purchase the fentanyl lollipops, the whistleblowers said, with senior leadership in the office reporting concerns about the process in emails. Eastman's attempts to order the lollipops were unsuccessful because there was not funding available, the whistleblowers said. 

Eastman then "proceeded to write his own policy" for the procurement, storage and disposal of Schedule II narcotics, the whistleblowers alleged, after staff questioned the lack of such a policy. His first draft of the policy "initially omitted language regarding the storage and disposal of the narcotics." Eastman also allegedly removed language that mirrored existing policies from the Drug Enforcement Administration, then signed the policy. Eastman failed to send the policy to senior leadership for approval, despite warnings that not doing so could be illegal, the report said. 

With the self-signed policy, Eastman then allegedly ordered staff to order the fentanyl lollipops. However, the fentanyl lollipops could not be secured because a vendor could not be found in time, the whistleblowers said. 

The report said that Eastman has previously been investigated by the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility for the improper ordering and procurement of narcotics, as well as illegally storing those narcotics with a friend. That friend, a paramedic and pilot, would have been the helicopter pilot during Eastman's trip to New York City, the report said. 

According to the whistleblower complaint, Eastman "created a hostile and chilled work environment" through attempts to "flout law and policy," and with his disparagement of other senior leaders and abusive treatment of other staff. The report recommends that Eastman be thoroughly investigated, and that he not be able to hire anyone or restructure the Office of Chief Medical Officer until the investigation is completed. The complaint also recommends that Customs and Border Protection halt any controlled substance purchase approvals made by Eastman. 

"CBP takes all allegations of misconduct seriously," a CBP spokesperson said in a statement provided to CBS News Friday evening. "This matter has been referred to the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for review. Consistent with our commitment to transparency and accountability, we will provide updates as they are available."

The CBP statement also referenced the May 2023 death of 8-year-old migrant girl Anadith Danay Reyes Alvarez while in Border Patrol custody. Alvarez, who suffered from sickle cell anemia and heart disease, died after detention facility staff dismissed or downplayed her complaints of pain and declined to take her to the hospital multiple times.

The CBP spokesperson stated Friday that the Department of Homeland Security launched a review of the OCMO following Alvarez's death "to address the critical failures that led to this deeply upsetting and unacceptable tragedy. This review quickly identified serious concerns within OCMO, including mismanagement, and an insufficient focus on delivering consistent and quality medical care."

The review prompted CBP to bring in "new leadership," the CBP spokesperson said, and "since then, CBP has made considerable progress to improve the quality of medical care provided." 

Nicole Sganga and Camilo Montoya Galvez contributed reporting. 

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