A nurse from Anacortes faces federal charges for allegedly stealing morphine for personal use, refilling emptied vials with water, and giving the diluted pain medicine to at least five patients at an assisted living center. Incredibly, the nurse is still eligible to work in the state of Washington.
According to charges filed last week in Western Washington federal court, on February 20, 2012, a pharmacist called the nursing home to report some "suspicious orders for morphine" the previous month. Specifically, two faxed order forms weren't signed by anyone, and they requested morphine refills for patients that already had ample painkiller supplies, including one who had recently been discharged from the facility.
Linvog reportedly signed the receipt form for both morphine bottles, and then failed to record the transactions in the nursing home's drug ledger. Adding to the suspicion, when one bottle of morphine was delivered, a medical technician initially refused to accept it since the patient to whom it was prescribed already had three bottles. Linvog, however, allegedly overruled the technician and signed for the new bottle.
According to court documents, Rosario's director and head nurse concocted a ruse to catch Linvog stealing morphine red-handed. The morphine (and a similar opiate called Dilaudid) are packaged in small vials, and the liquids are typically clear or blue-tinted. The administrators asked one of their pharmacists to color a new morphine vial with darker blue dye. Linvog reportedly signed for the drugs, and by the following morning the bottle was full but the liquid was a much lighter shade of blue.
When confronted, Linvog initially denied taking the drugs but ultimately confessed, according to court documents. The nursing home turned over eight bottles of diluted morphine and one of Dilaudid to the DEA. Linvog reportedly gave a written statement to Anacortes Police admitting that she "removed liquid morphine from some residents' bottles and replaced the stolen medication with sterile water."
Linvog explained to investigators that she was prescribed morphine in 2010 for a back injury. When her doctor began tapering down her dosage the following year, Linvog allegedly started raiding the supply closet at work to get her fix. She reportedly said it was "hit or miss" whether she'd inject the pilfered painkillers on the job, and a bottle of morphine would last her about a week on average.
Occasionally, Linvog allegedly said, she would just take whole bottles for herself. Other times, however, she would transfer some of the liquid morphine to a smaller container, then cover her tracks by refilling the emptied container with tap water.
The nurse said she realized some patients "won't get proper pain management" as a result of the dilution, and that giving someone full-strength morphine after they've been on the watered down stuff, "could make them extremely sedated." As prosecutors note in the charges, such a switch could also easily lead to a fatal overdose.
Linvog was fired from Roario in February, and she now faces a felony charge of tampering with consumer products, an offense that "typically poses a risk of death or serious bodily injury to one or more victims."
According to Department of Health records, Linvog was issued a registered nurse license in October of 2011, and it is still active with no action taken against her by the state.
Asked how Linvog could be facing federal prosecution but still be eligible to work, Department of Health spokeswoman Kate Lynch says federal prosecutors and law enforcement groups aren't obligated to notify state oversight agencies about their cases.
"Generally what happens is we'll open an investigation based on your call, for example," Lynch says. "Unless we know about the action that's been taken, at this point there are charges, or if someone calls with a complaint, that's when we open an investigation."
Lynch says the state currently has two ongoing investigations of Linvog. Although Linvog allegedly confessed to stealing the drugs, Lynch notes that "when there are criminal charges filed, like anything else there's a burden of proof that's involved -- when or if she's convicted, that would go into her record."