• The former nurse reportedly used syringes to take morphine from vials
  • She made efforts to make it appear as though the vials were still intact
  • A patient remained in pain after receiving saline instead of morphine

A former nurse has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for "tampering" with morphine medications and replacing them with a saline solution. The nurse reportedly had an opioid addiction.

Esther Rae Tuller was a registered nurse at the Confluence Health Clinic in Moses Lake, Washington, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted in a news release Monday. She allegedly used syringes from August 2019 to April 2020 to remove the morphine from "at least" 17 vials and replaced them with a saline solution. Tuller reportedly tried to glue the caps back on to make them seem as though they were still intact.

The former nurse had an opioid addiction and ingested the morphine herself, according to the agency.

During the sentencing, Chief United States District Judge Stanley A. Bastian said that the acts not only entailed medication theft but also placed patients at risk. Before she was apprehended, for instance, one patient who was prescribed morphine had to be rushed to the emergency room because of continued "excruciating" pain after receiving the saline solution instead of morphine.

"While Ms. Tuller's addiction to opioids is both tragic and far too common, her decision to take advantage of her access to medical-grade morphine was an egregious breach of trust," U.S. Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref said, as per the news release. "It is deeply troubling that she compounded her misconduct by secretly replacing that morphine with saline in vials that she knew would be distributed to patients, recklessly endangering patients who rely on the integrity of our health care system every day."

Tuller was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and three years of "supervised release" Monday. However, this is not the first time a health care professional has gotten into similar trouble due to his/her addiction. Earlier this year, a nurse in Iowa lost her license and was sentenced to five years of probation for stealing fentanyl for her addiction and then also replacing the opioid with a saline solution.

The opioid epidemic has affected a lot of lives. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows the scope of the crisis, noting that 10.1 million people "misused prescription opioids in the past year." And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 136 people die from an opioid overdose every day.

Morphine is an opioid derivative that's used to relieve pain. The National Library of Medicine warns that it "may be habit forming," which is why it's important to take it only as directed by the doctor.

Those who think they may have an opioid addiction should talk to their health care provider. They may also call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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