Fire chief’s opioid addiction problem shows issue with state reporting system

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis firefighter is facing a possible suspension if he doesn't comply with state orders to undergo monitoring for drug addiction and other issues.

The Tennessee Department of Health reported Joshua Anderson, the former fire chief of the Millington Airport Fire Department, showed up to work impaired.

Officials now say he has an opioid addiction problem.

Anderson's former boss, executive director of the Millington Airport Authority Roy Remington, said he saw the struggles of the opioid epidemic firsthand through the actions of Anderson.

"It's a very difficult problem to address," Remington said. "We noticed what I'd call a slow degradation of his job performance."

He said Anderson served as chief from July 2015 until January of 2017.

In that time, he started picking up on clues.

"We're talking slurred speech. Maybe someone not as familiar with the individual would think they had a bad night sleep," Remington said.

Julie Bennett, pharmacist for the Baptist Hospital Emergency Department, said it can be hard to detect when an employee or family member is addicted to opioids.

“The biggest tell-tale sign of a problem is a change in behavior," Bennett said. “They take multiple bathroom breaks and disappear for long periods of time”

Ultimately, Remington said they caught Anderson stealing medicine from the department-including the generic version of an injectable Benadryl.

“Diphenhydramine: drugs in combination and medications in combination can enhance the high," Bennett explained.

Remington was concerned for Anderson's ability to provide public safety and fired Anderson in January of 2017.

He said he learned a tough lesson.

“It’s probably why the nationwide opioid epidemic is what it is. It’s a very difficult problem to address," he said.

He also says he hoped to prevent another employer from going through the same thing he did by reporting the incidents to the state.

But the state investigation took a year and a half, and no one knew until the June 2018 consent order came out.

In that time, Anderson got hired at Memphis Fire.

Now, Remington hopes Anderson complies with the order.

According to the order, Anderson has to stay clean and in treatment to keep his license as an emergency medical technician.

WREG has asked MFD when they hired Anderson and if they're still confident in his abilities, but they haven't responded to our requests.

State officials said state law prohibits them from notifying potential employers that someone is under investigation, so there's no way MFD would've known about the issues until the consent order came out in June.