BILLINGS – The U.S. Attorney’s office announced today that on Nov. 2, Donald Friedlich Mills, III, a nurse who admitted stealing fentanyl, a highly addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid pain reliever, for his own use, was sentenced to a five-year term of probation with six months in home confinement.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters presided at the hearing.
Mills, 33, of Billings, pleaded guilty on May 22 to tampering with consumer products and to acquiring fentanyl by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery and deception. There was no plea agreement.
The investigation began on March 21, 2017, when the Billings Clinic, where Mills worked, notified the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that it had lost 200 mL of fentanyl from employee pilferage. In a recorded interview with DEA on March 28, 2017, Mills, after being advised of his rights, said he had neck pain and anxiety and thought he could self-medicate through injections.
Mill told law enforcement officers he started taking fentanyl and replacing it with saline beginning in February 2017 and ending on March 13, 2017, when he was confronted about discrepancies.
Mills further told officers that he would divert fentanyl most times that he worked, remove the fentanyl from the vials and replace it with saline. He said that if the case was his, he made sure the patients got a full vial along with whatever he had switched.
DEA took into evidence suspected tampered vials of fentanyl, syringes and vials labeled as saline. The evidence included 22 packages of fentanyl suspected of having been tampered. A DEA lab tested 15 of the packages and found that no fentanyl remained inside them.
In a sentencing memo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Godfrey said Mills could have taken the fentanyl without replacing it with saline but that would have led to the tampering being discovered sooner. “The defendant chose to be deceptive and replace the fentanyl with saline water in order to continue to have access to the drug, knowing the risk it would pose to patients,” Godfrey said.
AUSA Godfrey prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the DEA.
U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said, “This is a serious crime. By replacing fentanyl with saline, Mills put patients at risk of not having their severe pain properly treated. In addition, diverting fentanyl from its intended use can have lethal consequences to a community. Thankfully, that did not occur in this case. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Godfrey, the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations, for their successful investigation and prosecution of the case, after being alerted to the theft of fentanyl by Billings Clinic.”
“Patients deserve to have confidence that they are receiving the proper treatment from those entrusted with providing their medical care,” said Lisa
L. Malinowski, Special Agent in Charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ Los Angeles Field Office. “We must hold medical personnel accountable when they take advantage of their unique position and tamper with drugs needed by their patients, especially when such tampering causes unnecessary pain and suffering.”
DEA Resident Agent-in-Charge Stacy Zinn-Brittain stated, “DEA is committed to working this type of investigation to keep patients safe during medical procedures. We appreciated Billings Clinic’s cooperation in working with DEA on this investigation.”
Clair Johnson Howard Public Affairs Officer 406-247-4623