Kansas Nurse Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Drug Tampering

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In the past year, federal prosecutors have brought several cases against Kansas nurses for allegedly diluting painkillers prescribed for patients in nursing homes. These cases have demonstrated flaws in the regulation of the nursing profession in Kansas, according to several medical professionals. Tampering with prescribed medications, particularly powerful painkillers, certainly puts patients at risk by depriving patients of needed care and compromising doctors’ knowledge of their patients’ conditions.

In one case, Wendy Parmenter, a nurse at a Topeka nursing home, was accused of tampering with narcotics and stealing them for her own use on several occasions in 2010. Another nurse reported finding empty morphine bottles, which led the nursing director to order all employees to undergo oral-swab drug tests. Parmenter reportedly failed the test, but then passed two urine tests by substituting another employee’s urine for her own. She also allegedly diluted a bottle of morphine with tap water after using some of it. The morphine was intended for a 105 year-old patient suffering from chronic pain and dementia.

Prosecutors charged Parmenter with product tampering and adulteration of a drug. She admitted to addiction to narcotics, saying she would often take painkillers prescribed for patients under her care. She entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in November 2011. A federal judge in Wichita sentenced her to three years in prison on February 2, although she may qualify for early release if she completes a drug treatment program.

Parmenter, it turned out, had a history of painkiller abuse when the nursing home hired her in June 2010. Two months earlier, while working at a nursing home in Emporia, she had been caught stealing the painkiller hydrocodone from patients. She pleaded guilty to a state charge of drug theft in August 2010 and received probation. This information was not available to the nursing home in Topeka when it hired her. Because of what critics call flaws in Kansas’ system of regulations for nurses, the state’s Board of Nursing indicated at all times in 2010 that her nursing license was in good standing.

The Associated Press reported last year on criticisms of state regulations inspired by Parmenter’s case and other similar cases. Kansas law does not require criminal background checks by nursing homes when they hire nurses. The state authorized the Board of Nursing to conduct criminal background checks on new applicants for licenses three years ago. This only applies to people applying for brand new licenses. This makes it difficult for the state, or for employers, to learn of any criminal problems nurses might have related to drugs or alcohol. According to the AP, the Kansas Board of Nursing fields more than 1,500 complaints every year, most related to alcohol or drug abuse, but less than ten percent get referrals for further discipline or treatment.

People who have suffered injury due to a medication error in a pharmacy or hospital may be entitled to compensation for their damages. For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Kansas City medication error lawyer, contact Doug Horn at Horn Law today through our website or at (816) 795-7500.