SWEDISH HOSPITAL NURSE PLEADS GUILTY TO UNLAWFUL THEFT AND DIVERSION OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES
Dilaudid and Oxycodone Abused By Medical Professional
RACHEL NEZAT, 35, of Seattle, Washington, appeared yesterday in federal district court in Seattle and entered a guilty plea to the felony offense of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, deception, and subterfuge, in violation of federal law. This offense is punishable by up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Court documents indicate that during 2008, continuing through September 8, 2008, NEZAT worked as a registered nurse (RN) at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Washington. In this capacity, she provided health care services to hospital patients, including the administration of controlled substances as authorized by treating physicians. As part of her duties, she had access to controlled substances, including narcotic pain medications, which were stored in a secure system at the hospital. The system requires each health care professional removing narcotic medications from the hospital supply to identify him/herself and to indicate the name of the patient to whom such medications are being administered. In the event any narcotics are wasted or not administered to the patient, the person retrieving the narcotics is required to complete records indicating these facts. This system is designed to prevent the unlawful diversion of narcotics by health care professionals.
On repeated occasions during August and September 2008, NEZAT accessed quantities of hydromorphone (commonly marketed as Dilaudid), a Schedule II controlled substance, from the hospital supply, identified patients to whom such drugs were being administered, and thereafter diverted the drugs to her own unauthorized use, by taking the drug herself. Hospital records were falsified by NEZAT in order to conceal her ongoing theft. Hydromorphone is a highly addictive narcotic opiate. Its non-prescribed use is associated with various ill effects, including anxiety, depression, addiction and respiratory failure. A record audit at Swedish Hospital revealed NEZAT unlawfully removed and diverted to her own use more than 150 vials of hydromorphone during the period of her employment.
The diversion was uncovered in September 2008. On September 8, 2008, Nezat submitted to a drug test by Swedish Hospital and tested positive for high levels of hydromorphone. She was terminated the same day.
Following her termination at Swedish, NEZAT obtained employment as a registered nurse (RN) at Highline West Seattle Mental Health Hospital (Highline Hospital) in Seattle, Washington. While there, she removed an official prescription script from Highline Hospital and forged that script using the name of a Highline Hospital treating physician, authorizing NEZAT to receive 30 tablets of oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance. On December 13, 2008, NEZAT presented the forged script at a Bartell Drugstore in Seattle, and received the drugs. NEZAT was thereafter terminated by Highline Hospital.
As part of her guilty plea, NEZAT agreed to repay restitution to Swedish Hospital for the value of the drugs taken.
NEZAT is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge James L. Robart on August 3, 2009. While awaiting sentencing, NEZAT was ordered to submit to drug testing and treatment, and forbidden from engaging in any employment which allowed her access to controlled substances.
National statistics show an increasing level of unlawful 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. All dispensers of controlled substances, including pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals are required by law to have compliance programs in effect designed to prevent the unlawful diversion of 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.
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.