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Ex-nurse from Danville sentenced for ‘tampering’ with opioids at Winston-Salem hospital. She took drugs, replaced them with saline, investigators say.

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A former nurse in Winston-Salem was sentenced Wednesday to more than four years in federal prison.

Investigators said she injected herself with opioids and replaced the drug — which was supposed to be administered to surgical patients — with saline solution.

Emilee Kathryn Poteat, 32, of Danville, Virginia, worked at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. She pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Dec. 8 to one count of tampering with a consumer product.

U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs sentenced Poteat to four years, six months in federal prison. Poteat also has to pay a $3,000 fine and, when she gets out of prison, she will be on three years of supervised release, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina.

Poteat is already serving a three year prison sentence for tampering with consumer products at Sovah Health-Danville hospital.

Poteat was a registered nurse licensed by the Virginia Board of Nursing. From July to November 2020, she worked as a contract nurse in the Clinical Pre/Post Procedure Unit at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Poteat had access to a machine that stored vials of injectable hydromorphone, an opioid derived from morphine, according to court documents.

At Forsyth Medical Center, the drugs are stored in sealed vials locked inside drawers. The only way to access the drug is with an authorized fingerprint and a password. A nurse or other authorized personnel also has to enter the specific prescription information for an actual patient before getting the drugs.

Poteat removed the vials containing hydromorphone and injected the drug into herself. Then she injected saline solution into the vials to cover her tracks and used glue to replace the lids on the vials, according to federal prosecutors.

Poteat put the contaminated vials back into their containers, resealed them and put them back into the locked drawers, “knowing that CPPU nurses might administer the compromised and tampered-with vials of injectable hydromorphone to surgical patients” at the hospital, the news release said.

The hospital gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration three suspect vials of injectable hydromorphone. The FDA laboratory showed that each of the vials had been tampered with and that two of the vials were missing their seals. One vial didn’t have its cap cover and tamper seal. According to court papers, that one vial showed evidence that a hypodermic needle had been inserted to remove the drug and replace it with saline solution.

An investigator said Poteat admitted that she had tampered with the vials of hydromorphone.

“Poteat stated that she removed the vials from the Pyxes machine, went to the bathroom, drew down the drugs and injected them into her bloodstream,” court documents said.

Poteat was accused of doing the same thing in Danville. In a February news release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia said that, beginning in January 2020, Poteat diverted and tampered with vials of fentanyl and injectable hydromorphone that was intended for patients at Sovah Health-Danville.

On May 19, 2020, the hospital discovered that the tops of several vials had been either removed or tampered with. Out of 20 vials of fentanyl that were inspected, 14 of them had tops that popped off while the remaining ones had tops that fell off when they were touched. One of the vials had a dry white film around the rim that appeared to be superglue, according to the news release.

Investigators said Poteat was interviewed three times before she admitted that she had tampered with the drugs and that she had a substance abuse problem.

According to the Virginia Department of Health Professions’ website, Poteat’s license is currently suspended.

336-727-7326

@mhewlettWSJ

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