Police: Nurse at Wisconsin hospital stole morphine from dozens of patients

Woman accused of taking pain killers meant for patients more than 40 different times

June 14--A former nurse at UW Hospital could face scores of criminal charges for stealing pain medication from patients, UW-Madison police said Friday.

Stefanie Jones, 31, was arrested Thursday after police said she took syringes of morphine and hydromorphone meant for patients at the hospital on more than 40 occasions between October and March, police spokesman Marc Lovicott said.

Jones would fill the syringes with "water or another unknown liquid" after stealing the morphine, Lovicott said. UW Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Brunette said the other liquid was saline.

"It's unclear how many patients were affected by her actions," Lovicott said.

It's also unclear if any patients were harmed, Brunette said. But "any situation where patients do not receive the pain medication they require is unacceptable to us," she said.

Lovicott said Jones told investigators she took the drugs for her personal use. There has not been any indication she used the drugs while she worked, he said. Brunette said there were no reports she was impaired on the job.

Police are recommending 84 charges against Jones -- 42 each of diverting drugs and reckless injury.

The hospital contacted police in March after one of its pharmacy technicians noticed the medications had been tampered with, police said. On April 18 the theft was tied to Jones, who was put on leave April 23 and ended her employment April 28, Brunette said. She had worked at the hospital since January 2012.

Brunette said the medication was supposed to be administered through the pain relief buttons patients use to receive morphine as needed.

Jones, like many other nurses, had monitored access to secure cabinets containing pain medication, Brunette said. Access is controlled by "bio ID," such as fingerprints, Brunette said.

Jones used a "loophole" previously not identified, Brunette said. She wouldn't elaborate, saying the hospital doesn't want to provide directions to others intent on diverting drugs.

The hospital notified the state Board of Nursing and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration about the theft, Brunette said, and has "intensified scrutiny" of medication handling.

The state Department of Safety and Professional Services, which oversees licenses for nurses and includes the nursing board, is investigating the case, spokeswoman Hannah Zillmer said.

Jones' nursing license remains active, Zillmer said.

Two pharmacists were also caught stealing drugs at UW Hospital in recent years.

Joseph Theisen, head of the cancer pharmacy, stole more than 27,000 opioid pills over three years, authorities discovered in 2009. Thomas Gabriel, who worked in the central pharmacy, took about 50 diazepam and lorazepam pills from November 2010 to January 2011.

Those cases led the hospital to expand efforts to prevent drug diversion, Ron Sliwinski, the hospital's chief operating officer, told the State Journal in March.

The hospital increased audits, modified prescription labels, required double checks on dispensed drugs, installed more security cameras and started requiring less-regulated drugs to be stored in secure, automated cabinets, Sliwinski said.

"We try to learn from every circumstance," Sliwinski said. But, he added, "the minute something is in someone's hands, there is an opportunity for misuse."

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