News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

Nurse Stole Morphine, Diluted Vials with Water, and Replaced Them to Conceal Scheme

March 7, 2011

JOLENE LARSEN, 38, a Licenced Practical Nurse (LPN) at a Snohomish, Washington nursing home, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to a year in prison and 3 years of supervised release for tampering with consumer products. In her plea agreement dated November 11, 2010, LARSEN admitted that between November 2009, and May 2010, she removed morphine sulphate from prescription vials and replaced it with tap water. LARSEN then consumed the morphine. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart noted that LARSEN stole drugs from hospice patients with limited time left. The medications were to alleviate their pain, to make their final days as pain-free as possible. The judge said LARSEN had a duty to help these patients and instead her actions could have increased their pain.

According to the plea agreement, LARSEN had worked at Merry Haven Care Center in Snohomish, Washington, for 14 years. Merry Haven is a nursing home and provides nursing services for long-term residents, rehabilitation services for individuals recovering from illnesses or surgery, and hospice for end-of-life patients. LARSEN was a supervisor at the facility, overseeing a unit of patients and a group of nurses. LARSEN was one of a limited number of people with access to a secure lock box for narcotic medications. One of her other responsibilities was the disposal of certain medications after patients no longer needed them. LARSEN was to fill out paperwork recording that medications had been properly destroyed.

On multiple occasions, LARSEN removed morphine sulfate from vials prescribed for patients and replaced the morphine with tap water. The morphine is removed from the vial with a syringe, but is taken orally. In at least one instance, the diluted morphine was administered to a patient. The patient’s pain was not treated until additional pain medication was provided. In another instance, an alert nurse noticed that the color of the morphine sulphate was lighter than it should be, so she used a different vial for the patient. Additionally, LARSEN admitted she took morphine from the medications that were to be destroyed and consumed it.

In their request for a prison sentence, prosecutors detailed the risks LARSEN’s actions posed to vulnerable patients. “ First and foremost, patients who receive diluted liquid morphine sulfate will continue to experience pain. Secondly, if a doctor, unaware that the previously administered morphine was diluted, were then to increase the patient’s dosage, the patient could then be administered too large a dosage of undiluted morphine. The patient could then suffer a lower level of consciousness, or, in severe cases, stop breathing,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), and the Snohomish Police Department.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Karyn Johnson.


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