Former VA Nurse Gets 40 Months in Prison for Stealing Morphine from Dying Veterans

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Morphine is primarily used for pain relief and anesthesia. Getty Images
Morphine is primarily used for pain relief and anesthesia. Getty Images

A former nurse at a Massachusetts Department of Veterans Affairs hospital was sentenced to nearly three-and-a-half years in prison for swiping doses of morphine intended for veterans in hospice care and using them on herself.

Kathleen Noftle, 55 at the time of her arrest, pleaded guilty last October to tampering with a consumer product and "obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception and subterfuge."

According to a release this week from the Department of Justice, she committed the offenses while working as a nurse in the hospice unit at the VA Medical Center campus in Bedford, Massachusetts.

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On three consecutive days in January 2017, Noftle took doses of morphine designated for her patients.

"Noftle admitted that she mixed water from the sink with a portion of the liquid morphine doses, and then administered the diluted medication to patients orally," the DOJ release states. "Noftle then ingested a diluted amount of the remaining drug."

According to the Lowell Sun, Noftle had worked at the facility since 2015. In January 2017, the paper reported, her co-workers found extra morphine caps in the medical cassette of one of her patients, a complaint against her stated. She initially said they were there as a result of carelessness, according to the paper.

She was arrested and charged in September 2019. According to an announcement from the time, the result of Noftle's crime was unnecessary pain and discomfort for at least one veteran.

"The investigation revealed that, due to diluted morphine administered by Noftle, one veteran experienced increased difficulty breathing (dyspnea) and increased suffering in his final days," DOJ officials said. "The investigation also found that before working at the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Noftle had resigned from her position as a nurse at a different hospital following her failure to follow appropriate procedures when wasting narcotics on 60 occasions."

Noftle faced up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for the offenses to which she pleaded guilty.

Across the medical community, abuse of controlled drugs is a known problem. According to AddictionCenter.com, which cites the Journal of Clinical Nursing, roughly 20% of nurses struggle with drug or alcohol addiction.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Related: Feds Charge VA Nurse with Stealing Morphine from Hospice Patients

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