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Nurse Who Stole Painkillers, Replacing Them with Saline and Putting Surgical Patients at Risk, Sentenced to Four Years

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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of North Carolina 

Monday, May 22, 2023

RALEIGH, N.C. – A former Fuquay-Varina nurse was sentenced today to 48 months in prison and three years of supervised release for tampering with painkillers intended for surgery patients.  On March 9, 2022, Melissa Elizabeth Chacona pled guilty to the charges.

“Surgical patients trust healthcare providers to give them the medicines they need. Ms. Chacona abused her position of trust to steal powerful prescription pain medications intended for surgical patients and replace them with saline,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “In delivering today’s sentence the judge noted that these patients were in the most vulnerable position. My office will continue to pursue healthcare providers whose crimes jeopardize public safety.”

According to court documents and other information presented in court, Chacona, 45, worked as a nurse at a Raleigh-area surgical practice. In early 2019, she began extracting the medication from vials of fentanyl, morphine, and meperidine and replacing it with saline. She did this for several months, compromising at least seventy-eight vials, including those intended for surgical patients. Testing revealed that compromised vials contained less than 15% of the actual medication and that the tampering had rendered multiple vials unsterile.

Chacona has also been convicted at the state level for diverting medication earlier in her nursing career. Her plea agreement requires permanent surrender of her nursing license.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III. The Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration, Raleigh Police Department, and North Carolina Board of Nursing investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lucy Partain Brown and Dennis Duffy prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:19-CR-488-D.



USAO - North Carolina, Eastern

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