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Salem nurse in drug recovery gets reduced jail term

A Salem nurse who admitted she had become addicted to narcotics following an ankle injury will serve a 30-day jail term for stealing prescription drugs for personal use from a veterans hospital. The health care professional, who is banned from nursing by the courts, has been sober and in recovery for the last two years.

The 28-year-old former nurse told a judge that she was so addicted to painkillers in 2009 that she stole the powerful narcotic fentanyl from her employer, the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center. At the time, the nurse said she believed the drug would keep her focused on her work without causing withdrawal symptoms.

According to court testimony, the former nurse removed excess fentanyl from patients' dispensers to feed an addiction she could not control. The woman admitted that she took the drug from dispensers in the names of patients who were not ordered to have the narcotic.

The Salem woman also confessed that she over-ordered patient medication in order to keep the excess amount for herself.

A U.S. attorney said that addiction among health care professionals is commonplace because they have access to many types of medication. The woman's defense attorney also noted that the former nurse never took fentanyl supplies from patients who needed the drug.

After the VA facility discovered that the nurse had diverted 7,500 micrograms of the drug, the employee was fired, and her nursing license was suspended. The courts have made the permanent loss of her nursing license part of the woman's sentence for stealing the narcotic.

The recommended jail term for the drug charge is six months, but the sentencing judge ordered a 30-day term instead followed by five months of house arrest. The judge said the decision was made partly because the Salem woman is five months pregnant.

Sadly, this case is not unique. Many people become addicted to pain killers following an injury. Even though they may want to stop taking them, many do not know how to fight the addiction. Often what they need most is help. However, courts are not always sympathetic toward cases like this one. This is why it is so important have a good understanding of your rights.

Source: The Roanoke Times, "Salem VA nurse who stole drugs gets jail time," Laurence Hammack, Oct. 5, 2011

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Ronald E. Smith, P.C.

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