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Painkillers meant for patients were swapped with saline, feds say. Nurse pleads guilty

Getty Images/iStockphoto

A registered nurse in Michigan placed critical care patients in danger by swapping painkillers with saline over the span of several months, according to federal authorities.

Mary Cheatham, 42, of Ypsilanti, recently admitted to the allegations, according to an Aug. 30 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“Patients entering a hospital must have confidence they will receive the treatment they are promised,” United States Attorney Dawn Ison said in the news release. “Cheatham violated that trust and potentially exposed patients to unnecessary pain and suffering and must be held accountable for her actions.”

In her signed plea agreement filed in federal court on Aug. 29, Cheatham admitted she started stealing hydromorphone — a narcotic that helps relieve severe pain — from a Detroit hospital in March 2020.

While pretending to be “conducting a controlled substance count,” authorities say Cheatham used a syringe to withdraw drugs from vials and syringes. She would then replace the liquid with saline “so it would appear as if none of the narcotics were missing.”

The defense attorney representing Cheatham did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on Aug. 30.

From March to about October 2020, authorities say she stole hydromorphone from 46 vials and 70 syringes. The containers were meant for patients recovering from procedures in the critical care unit.

In a federal indictment filed in August 2021, prosecutors said she took the drugs “with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury.”

Cheatham pleaded guilty to tampering with consumer products, according to court records. She faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Her sentencing date is scheduled for Jan. 18.

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