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Two Colorado nurses admit to stealing drugs from hospital patients


 

Two registered nurses in Colorado were charged with fraud and deception for stealing controlled substances from hospital patients, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Denver.

Alicia Nickel-Tangeman, 44, formerly of Woodland Park, Colo., pled guilty to four counts of obtaining controlled substances using fraud and deception. She gained access to rooms of patients who weren’t assigned to her and diverted drugs from their pain-on-demand devices, according to federal officials.

The defendant told patients she was conducting a study on the pumps that deliver drugs to relieve pain when the patient pushes a button, the officials stated. She would open the machine and would remove a portion of the drug with a syringe. She obtained drugs in this way from three patients on four occasions, a press release stated.

When questioned by law enforcement, Ms. Nickel-Tangeman continued to lie about her conduct and produced a false email address to substantiate her claims, the Department of Justice reported. She is scheduled to be sentenced November 30.

Ms. Nickel-Tangeman’s LinkedIn profile shows that she was a nurse with UCHealth in Colorado for 17 years, ending in May 2019.

Katie Muhs, 34, of Littleton, Colo., was convicted of a felony for using fraud and deception to divert fentanyl for her personal use while serving as an intensive care nurse.

The defendant admitted that between June and September 2019 she stole fentanyl by removing it from the IV bags of patients using a syringe. She also admitted to stealing fentanyl that remained in vials after fentanyl had been administered to patients. She would replace the stolen drug with saline and would “then have a fellow nurse witness her ‘waste,’ or dispose of the saline.”

U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore sentenced Ms. Muhs to 3 months of probation as a result of “the defendant’s confession and her cooperation in disclosing full information on her diversion, which is a matter potentially affecting the public health and the integrity of the health care system. The felony offense is punishable by up to four years of imprisonment and a fine of $250,000, per count.”

In pleading guilty to the single count in the case, Ms. Muhs admitted that on September 8, 2019, “she removed a bag of fentanyl from the automated medication control machine at the hospital under a different nurse’s login credentials. She then removed fentanyl from the IV bag for personal use.”

In April, the Colorado Court of Appeals denied her request for unemployment benefits. Court documents reveal that Ms. Muhs lost her job at St. Anthony Hospital after it was discovered that she stole and self-injected fentanyl while working as a registered nurse there.

The investigations in these cases were conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

“We want it to be known that healthcare professionals who take advantage of patients in need by stealing their medications will be held accountable to the law,” said Deanne Reuter, DEA Denver Field Division special agent in charge.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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