The registered nurse accused of stealing drugs from Bartlett Regional Hospital this week had previously lost her out-of-state nursing license in 1995 due to drug addiction, according to court documents.
Assistant District Attorney Jack Schmidt told Judge Keith Levy in court Thursday that 58-year-old Victoria Peppenger entered a treatment program in 1995 for an addiction to hydrocodone, a narcotic pain reliever. Peppenger reached an agreement with the Alaska Division of Occupational Licensing in 2001 regarding the addiction, allowing her to begin working as a nurse in Alaska.
Peppenger was arrested Wednesday on a felony drug possession charge and a misdemeanor theft charge after a doctor at the hospital reported suspected drug tampering. The investigation continues.
An anesthesiologist administered 5 cubic centimeters of Fentanyl intravenously at about 2 p.m. Wednesday while prepping an 18-year-old man for surgery, to no effect. The doctor noticed a label on the syringe was out of place, according to court documents.
The doctor administered 5 cubic centimeters of Fentanyl from a fresh vial and the patient responded accordingly. The doctor suspected the original dose had been tampered with and immediately called his supervisor.
Fentanyl is a powerful opiate pain medication that is more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The supervisor interviewed Peppenger about the syringe of Fentanyl, who originally denied tampering with the drug. Peppenger later admitted to replacing the drug with 3 to 4 cubic centimeters of saline solution, according to court documents.
The hospital's human resources director and a security guard accompanied Peppenger to her locker where they recovered a syringe from her purse. Peppenger told police that she filled the syringe with Fentanyl from the anesthesiologist's cart and took it back to her locker and put it in her purse.
"My plan was to go home and administer it by needle into my muscle," Peppenger told police, according to court documents.
Hospital CEO Shawn Morrow said in a statement that he believes the theft is an isolated incident.
"Although this is a personnel matter and we are unable to comment on the specifics of this case, it does show that our systems work," he said. "Our staff acted quickly and appropriately."
Morrow said the hospital acted immediately upon discovering the problem and contacted authorities, including the police, the Alaska Board of Nursing and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
"We want to reassure the public that safety is always of primary concern at Bartlett Regional, and our staff will do whatever is necessary and appropriate to assure that our patients' care and safety is the best that it can be," he said.
Peppenger was a recent hire that had been working at the hospital for less than a month, Morrow said.
Peppenger has given up her Alaska nursing license, her attorney told the judge.
Levy set Peppenger's bail Thursday at $3,000. She was still being lodged at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center as of Friday evening.
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.