Food and Drug Administration
Office of Criminal Investigations
U.S. Department of Justice Press Release
For Immediate Release
November 6, 2009
United States Attorney
Western District of Washington
Contact: Emily Langlie
Public Affairs Officer
Demerol Diverted at Bellevue Surgery Clinic
DREA LYNNE GIBSON, 43, of Fall City, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to a year and a day in prison and three years of supervised release for product tampering in violation of federal law. GIBSON pleaded guilty in May 2009, admitting that she tampered with doses of Demerol, a narcotic pain medication, at the surgical center where she worked. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez said, "This is an extremely serious offense. Using Demerol for herself is one thing, stealing it is another. But replacing it with something else takes it to another level. Replacing the Demerol with epinephrine shows she was willing to put other people in pain and even at risk of death to treat her own pain."
According to filings in the case, while employed as a nurse at the Plastic Surgery Center in Bellevue, Washington, GIBSON fed her addiction to Demerol by stealing glass vials of Demerol from a locked case at the surgery center. She completed records indicating the drugs were being administered to patients. As her addiction worsened, in October and November, 2008, GIBSON would break open and consume the contents of Demerol ampules, refilling those ampules with saline solution, and then super-glueing the ampules back together, and returning the ampules to the Demerol box. As a result, ampules containing saline solution, secured by super glue, were disguised to appear as genuine Demerol ampules. On multiple occasions during November, 2008, anesthesiologists at the clinic administered the tampered ampules to patients recovering from surgery under the belief that they were administering Demerol. When patients complained that their pain was not being relieved, the anesthesiologist switched pain medications and administered fentanyl to relieve the pain.
GIBSON had been a Washington State licensed registered nurse since 1995. However, in 2001, GIBSON was sanctioned by the Washington State Nursing Commission for removing a patient's prescription for oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, while working at Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles, Washington, and attempting to fill that prescription for herself at a local pharmacy. In 2003, GIBSON was hired at the Plastic Surgery Center. She was fired in November 2008, when the drug diversion was discovered.
In requesting a prison sentence for GILBERT, Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Lally wrote to the court, "Drea Gibson's on-going conduct put many unsuspecting patients at risk. Not only did some patients unnecessarily experience pain during surgical procedures because they were injected with saline instead of the prescribed anesthetic but these same patients were placed at risk of infection from Gibson's non-sterile handling of the tampered ampules."
National statistics show an increasing level of unlawful drug diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical controlled substances, as well as overdoses of such drugs resulting in rising medical costs. Studies reflect that hospital admissions attributable to prescription drug abuse and overdose have increased 500% over the last 10 years, and are currently costing the United States more than $1 billion dollars in health care costs each year. The unlawful possession and diversion of such substances by individuals – be it by patients, non-patients, or by medical professionals, contributes to this escalating problem, poses a danger to the user and to others, and constitutes a violation of law.
This case is part of a continuing Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation focused upon the unlawful diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances within the Western District of Washington and elsewhere. This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigation (FDA-CI), the Washington State Department of Health, and the Bellevue Washington Police Department.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Patricia Lally and Ronald J. Friedman.