Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations

July 25, 2011: Nurse Sentenced for Diluting Patients' Morphine

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Food and Drug Administration
Office of Criminal Investigations

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release


For Immediate Release
July 25, 2011

United States Attorney
District of Kansas
Contact: Jim Cross
Public Affairs
(316) 269-6481


TOPEKA, KAN. - A nurse from Goddard, Kan., has been sentenced to 48 months in federal prison for diluting patients' morphine, U.S. Attorney Barry Grisson said today.

Deborah J. Riggs, 56, Goddard, Kan., pleaded guilty to one count of consumer product tampering and one count of adulterating a drug. In her plea, Riggs admitted that in December 2009 she was working as a nurse for Halstead Health and Rehabilitation in Halstead, Kan., when she diluted morphine that was to be given to five patients. She removed from 32 to 62 percent of the contents of bottles of morphine sulphate solution and replaced the contents with another substance.

The plea agreement states that in 1998 she was convicted on federal charges of acquiring controlled substances by fraud and sentenced to two years probation. In February 2000, the Kansas Board of Nursing suspended her license, but stayed the suspension to allow her to continue nursing if she met certain conditions. In August 2008, the Kansas Board of Nursing again suspended Riggs' license for drug abuse and stealing narcotics while she was a nurse at Wesley Medical Center. The nursing board again stayed the suspension.

"As a health care professional, the defendant in this case demonstrated a callous breach of patient trust, intentionally subjecting those under her care to potential harm," said Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Holland of FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations, Kansas City Field Office. "The FDA will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators of such acts to ensure they are held accountable when they choose to disregard the well-being of those under their care."

Grissom commended the Food and Drug Administration - Office of Criminal Investigations and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway for their work on the case.


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