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Press Release

Veterans Affairs Nurse Sentenced for Drug Distribution

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

RALEIGH – United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced that today in federal court, United States District Judge James C. Dever III sentenced AARON WAYNE PICKRELL, 50, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, to 3 years’ probation and 90 days house arrest.

PICKRELL was named in a five-count Indictment filed on December 12, 2018, and on March 20, 2019, he pled guilty to one count of Obtaining a Controlled Substance through Forgery, Fraud, Deception, and Subterfuge.

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG).  It began on February 28, 2018, when authorities received information from a confidential informant indicating that PICKRELL, a registered nurse (RN) at the VA Medical Center (MC) in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was diverting controlled substances for his own use. 

On March 1, 2018, investigators met with PICKRELL’s supervisor and learned PICKRELL was assigned to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), but worked in different sections of the VAMC as needed.   A review of VAMC records revealed that PICKRELL had submitted requests through the automated prescription delivery system (Omnicell) fraudulently indicating that a physician had given orders for Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) to be administered to patients.  As a result, PICKRELL thereby gained access to the VA’s automated dispensing pharmacy system in order to obtain Hydromorphone for his own purposes.

On March 2, 2018, VA OIG agents conducted an interview of PICKRELL and he admitted that he had diverted Hydromorphone from the VAMC for his own use for at least the past two to three years.  A comprehensive audit of the Omnicell transaction reports, VA computerized patient record system, and the Veterans Health Information Systems Technology Architecture system revealed that PICKRELL had diverted 5,930 mg of Hydromorphone between January 1, 2015, until May 1, 2018.   The records reflected that PICKRELL had developed a weekly/monthly pattern of diverting controlled substance medications wherein he would override the Omnicell safe guards to withdraw medications without a physician’s order.  The scheme was further accomplished by working at various sections within the Fayetteville VAMC, including the nursing home, urgent care, psychiatric unit, and ICU.  PICKRELL was terminated by the VAMC on March 5, 2018, due to his failure to maintain statutory and VA policy requirements for appointment as an RN, as well as his diversion of controlled substances.

That effort has been implemented through the Take Back North Carolina Initiative of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina. This initiative emphasizes the regional assignment of federal prosecutors to work with law enforcement and District Attorney’s Offices in those communities on a sustained basis to reduce the violent crime rate, drug trafficking, and crimes against law enforcement.  For more information about this initiative click here:

The investigation of this case was conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG).  Assistant United States Attorney Scott A. Lemmon represented the government.

Updated July 2, 2019

Prescription Drugs