Former nurse found guilty of swapping out painkillers for saline

Jul 24, 2021, 8:32 PM
nurse convicted of stealing painkillers...
Hospitals frequently use pre-loaded syringes to dispense narcotic painkillers like Dilaudid to patients. Photo: Canva

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal jury found a Sandy man, who formerly worked as a nurse, guilty of tampering with painkillers pre-loaded in syringes for patient use. They say he used the medication himself and replaced it with saline solution, potentially leaving patients with watered-down medication. 

Nathan Pehrson, 41, worked on a surgical and trauma unit at Utah hospital owned by Intermountain Healthcare when prosecutors say the crimes took place. 

Former nurse used painkillers, then replaced liquid with saline

According to a release from the office of Acting US Attorney for Utah Andrea Martinez, the jury found Pehrson guilty on three counts related to the accusations.

Prosecutors said in 2018, Pehrson took hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid, Exalgo or Hydrostat, out of pre-loaded syringes for his own use. Then, they said he replaced the missing medication with saline solution. Next, he returned the syringes with much less of the painkiller inside for other medical workers to use on patients.

The Drug Enforcement Agency considers hydromorphone a “potent schedule II opioid analgesic drug.” 

Prosecutors say he made false statements to a Food and Drug Administration investigator. The jury found him guilty on that count as well.

“Today’s guilty verdicts are proof that healthcare providers will be held accountable for stealing, using, or tampering with opioid pain medications meant for patients that are suffering, Martinez said in the news release. “The opioid epidemic has many faces, and no one is immune from the problems that we face in society with drug addiction. I comment the hospital staff who reported the defendant’s illegal activity to federal law enforcement.” 

The FDA, which helped investigate the case, said it continues to work to protect the health of the public. 

Prosecutors filed the original charges in 2019, but the case went through multiple delays until the jury verdict on Thursday. 

A sentencing date was not immediately available. Intermountain Healthcare declined to comment on the case. 

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Former nurse found guilty of swapping out painkillers for saline