A former Fuquay-Varina nurse was sentenced Monday to four years in prison and three years of supervised release for tampering with opioid painkillers intended for surgery patients.
Melissa Elizabeth Chacona pleaded guilty to the charges in March last year, the federal court of Eastern District of North Carolina announced.
Federal indictment documents reviewed by The News & Observer show that Chacona, 45, was initially accused of tampering with at least 79 vials of powerful opioid drugs such as fentanyl, morphine and meperedine.
Chacona extracted the drugs from the vials and replaced them with saline water between January and April 2019.
The compromised vials were found to contain under 15% of the actual medication and that Chacona’s actions made multiple vials unsterile, according to a news release.
Chacona also has been convicted separately by the state for stealing medication earlier in her nursing career, prosecutors said.
She will be required to permanently surrender her nursing license as part of her plea agreement.
“Surgical patients trust health care providers to give them the medicines they need.,” U.S. Attorney Michael Easley said in a news release. “In delivering today’s sentence the judge noted that these patients were in the most vulnerable position. My office will continue to pursue health care providers whose crimes jeopardize public safety.”
The Raleigh Police Department and N.C. Board of Nursing investigated the case locally along with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.