News and Press Releases

Demerol Diverted at Bellevue, WA Surgery Clinic

May 28, 2009

DREA LYNNE GIBSON, 43, of Fall City, Washington, appeared today in federal district court in Seattle and pleaded guilty to product tampering in violation of federal law. This offense is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

GIBSON has been a Washington State licensed registered nurse since 1995.

In 2001, GIBSON was sanctioned by the Washington State Nursing Commission for removing a patient’s prescription for oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, while working at Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles, Washington, and attempting to fill that prescription for herself at a local pharmacy.

Between 2003 and November, 2008, GIBSON was employed as a practicing nurse at the Plastic Surgery Center, 2950 Northup Way, Suite 100, in Bellevue, Washington. The Plastic Surgery Center is a private clinic performing cosmetic surgeries, including breast augmentation and reduction, liposuction, and other surgical procedures. The clinic contracts with anesthesiologists to assist in surgeries.

GIBSON worked in the recovery room at the Plastic Surgery Center, administering to patients as they were recovering from surgeries at the clinic.

The clinic maintained a stock of controlled substances to treat serious pain, including meperidine (“Demerol”) and fentanyl, Schedule II controlled substances. Such medications were administered to patients by anesthesiologists to alleviate pain in the aftermath of invasive surgery. The medications are administered to take affect as the anesthesia provided during the surgery wears off. The post-surgery pain the patient experiences is thereby controlled and alleviated.

The narcotics at the clinic were kept in a locked cabinet in the recovery room to which GIBSON had access in her capacity as a treating nurse. The Demerol was stored in labeled Demerol boxes. The drug, a clear liquid consisting of meperidine hydrochloride, came in glass 100 mg ampules. The tip of the ampule is broken off by the anesthesiologist, and the liquid is then drawn into a syringe and injected into the patient. The glass ampules were further contained in sealed plastic sleeves, with five ampules in each sleeve.

During 2008, GIBSON began abusing meperidine (Demerol), by taking it orally at the clinic from the clinic supply. She did this by drinking that portion of the drug left over in the glass ampule after some of the contents were administered to the patient. By law, any amount of the contents of an ampule not administered to a patient needed to be destroyed. When destroyed, it is properly reported on documents as having been “wasted”. On repeated occasions, GIBSON completed written documents reporting as “waste” Demerol which she consumed at the clinic and which fed her addiction.

As her addiction worsened, GIBSON began stealing whole ampules from the Demerol box, and sleeves of ampules from the Demerol box, and diverting the contents of the ampules to her own use. She completed records indicating the drugs were being administered to patients. Her misconduct went undetected.

Finally, during October and November, 2008, GIBSON engaged in unlawful product tampering in order to conceal her theft of Demerol from the clinic. She did this on several occasions by breaking open and consuming the contents of Demerol ampules, refilling those ampules with saline solution, and then super-glueing the ampules back together, and returning the ampules to the Demerol box. As a result, ampules containing saline solution, secured by super glue, were disguised to appear as genuine Demerol ampules. GIBSON did this, recognizing the possibility and potential that treating anesthesiologists and medical staff at the clinic would mistake the saline-filled tampered ampules for actual Demerol ampules, and administer those tampered ampules to patients recovering from surgery, which is what happened. On multiple occasions during November, 2008, anesthesiologists at the clinic administered the tampered ampules to patients recovering from surgery under the belief that they were administering Demerol. On one of those occasions, when it appeared to the treating anesthesiologist that the patient continued to be in pain notwithstanding the administration of Demerol, the anesthesiologist switched pain medications and administered fentanyl to the patient instead at which time the pain was relieved.

GIBSON was terminated by the clinic on November 17, 2008, following discovery of several saline-filled tampered Demerol ampules inside the Demerol box, and admissions of misconduct by GIBSON. The super glue used by GIBSON was found in the recovery room, along with broken Demerol ampules, and other evidence of tampering. The tampered ampules were analyzed by the federal Food and Drug Administration Forensic Laboratory. The glass tops were found to be affixed with super glue and the ampules were found to contain a liquid, with meperidine diluted to 3% of its original and intended strength.

In a statement to law enforcement authorities, GIBSON admitted she was addicted to Demerol and estimated that she had unlawfully taken not less than 100 Demerol ampules from the clinic. She admitted taking between 2 and 3 ampules per day during October and November 2008.

In pleading guilty to product tampering, GIBSON acknowledged that she acted with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of bodily injury as a result of her conduct.

National statistics show an increasing level of unlawful drug diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical controlled substances, as well as overdoses of such drugs resulting in rising medical costs. Studies reflect that hospital admissions attributable to prescription drug abuse and overdose have increased 500% over the last 10 years, and are currently costing the United States more than $1 billion dollars in health care costs each year. The unlawful possession and diversion of such substances by individuals – be it by patients, non-patients, or by medical professionals, contributes to this escalating problem, poses a danger to the user and to others, and constitutes a violation of law.

GIBSON is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on September 4, 2009. While awaiting sentencing, GIBSON was ordered to undergo drug testing and treatment, and forbidden from engaging in any employment which allowed her access to controlled substances.

This case is part of a continuing Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation focused upon the unlawful diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances within the Western District of Washington and elsewhere. This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Bellevue Washington Police Department.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald J. Friedman.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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