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2 Colorado nurses illegally took controlled substances at work, U.S. Attorney's Office says

A nurse from Littleton was sentenced and another nurse from Woodland Park pleaded guilty in separate cases.

DENVER — A Colorado nurse was sentenced and another pleaded guilty in separate cases to stealing controlled substances from patients in hospitals, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Colorado.

In one of the cases from 2019, Katie Muhs, 34, of Littleton was sentenced on Aug. 27 for illegally obtaining fentanyl through fraud and deception while on the job as a registered nurse in an unnamed hospital's intensive care unit.

In the other case, Alicia Nickel-Tangeman, 44, formerly of Woodland Park, pleaded guilty on Aug. 26 to four counts of obtaining controlled substances using fraud and deception while she was on the job as a registered nurse at an unnamed hospital.

“We cannot allow health-care professionals to feed their own addictions by diverting critical pain medications from patients,” said acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch in a news release.

Muhs had previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months of probation. She admitted to taking fentanyl for her personal use between June and September 2019.

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She stole the fentanyl by removing it from the IV bags of ventilated patients using a sterile syringe. She also stole fentanyl that was leftover in vials after the drug was administered to patients, according to the release.

She admitted to replacing the stolen drug with saline and then having a fellow nurse witness her disposing of the saline, the release says.

One time, on Sept. 8, 2019, Muhs took a bag of fentanyl for her personal use from the automated medication control machine at the hospital by using another nurse's credentials, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Nickel-Tangeman stole hydromorphone by telling patients she was conducting a study on the effectiveness of the pumps used to administer medication to relieve pain on-demand when a patient pushes a button, the release says.

On three or four occasions, she used a key to open the pump's machine, which had a syringe of hydromorphone inside, and removed some of the drugs.

She then lied to law enforcement about it, saying she was engaged in a study with a well-known university. She showed law enforcement a false e-mail that she said was from a friend who asked her to participate in the research, the release says.

Nickel-Tangemen was sentenced on Nov. 30 to one year in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised release. 

“We want it to be known that health-care professionals who take advantage of patients in need by stealing their medications will be held accountable to the law," said Deanne Reuter, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Denver field division special agent in charge, in the release.

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