Posted Aug 17, 2009 06:56 pm CDT
Addicted to a powerful painkiller, Kristen Diane Parker admittedly stole fentanyl from empty operating rooms at the Denver, Colo., hospital in which she worked.
But by substituting syringes of saline solution for syringes of fentanyl, the 26-year-old surgical technician didn’t just put patients at risk of inadequately treated pain, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Parker, who has hepatitis C, allegedly may have infected at least 23 hospital patients in Denver with the incurable liver disease, which is transmitted through contact with blood, by reusing needles in the saline-filled syringes she substituted for the ones containing fentanyl, the newspaper reports. Some 6,000 patients are being tested in Colorado, plus several thousand more from a suburban New York City medical facility where Parker formerly worked. A Texas medical facility is waiting to determine when Parker contracted hepatitis C before pursing potential testing there.
The situation is prompting consideration of a Colorado law to require medical assistants to be licensed, as well as the need for cross-referencing computerized hospital reports of missing drugs and unexpected patient infections. Several former patients have retained counsel, and there also has been a call for medical facilities to switch to a different type of syringe with a needle that cannot be reused.
Parker, who has said she didn’t know she was infected with hepatitis C when she substituted the syringes, is facing federal charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit. She could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if she is convicted of all 42 counts against her, the Times reports.