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Press Release

Registered Nurse Sent to Federal Prison for Stealing Opioids from Hospital

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Colorado
Nurse used her employment at hospital to get drugs

DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announces that registered nurse Kacye Unruh was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for stealing opioids by deceit and for tampering with a consumer product.  The defendant was sentenced today in Denver by United States District Court Judge William J. Martinez.  At the conclusion of her prison sentence, she will serve 3 years of supervised release.   

According to the plea agreement and facts presented at sentencing, Unruh was addicted to fentanyl and/or hydromorphone while she worked as a registered nurse in the acute dialysis department at the University of Colorado Hospital from May to July, 2016.  During her employment, Unruh used her position as a nurse to access secure machines – called Pyxis machines – to steal opioids intended to treat patients’ pain.  She used a needle and syringe to inject herself with those stolen opioids in a bathroom.  She then re-filled the partially used opioid vials with saline solution and placed the tampered vials back into the Pyxis machines.  Tests of certain vials showed that they contained substantially less of the active ingredients than expected or were tainted with substances other than the active ingredients expected to be present in those vials.

The evidence presented at sentencing caused the Court to infer that patients at the hospital received tainted opioids to treat their pain as a result of Unruh’s conduct.  The Court concluded that Unruh violated the trust placed in her by the hospital and its patients.

“This defendant took potent pain medicine that was intended for patients and used it to satisfy her addiction,” said United States Attorney Jason Dunn.  “Whatever else may happen in addressing the opioid crisis, we must ensure that patients in hospitals receive the appropriate medication they need to recover.”

“FDA will continue to aggressively pursue those health care practitioners who prey on vulnerable patients by removing their needed medications,” said Charles L. Grinstead, Special Agent in Charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Kansas City Field Office.  “We remain committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the public health and bring to justice those who compromise patients’ health in this manner.”        

Unruh was placed on investigative leave in July 2016, during an investigation of her conduct.  Her license to be a professional nurse in Colorado was suspended that same month.

This matter was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jaime Pena and Peter McNeilly prosecuted this case.

CASE NO.  16-cr-0347


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Updated September 18, 2019