Friday, October 9, 2009

RN Prosecuted And Sentenced To Federal Prison For Diverting Controlled Substances From Patients And Using Them For Her Own Benefit

There is an increase in health care professionals being prosecuted criminally for the illegal diversion of drugs. In the past, if a health care professional were found to have diverted controlled substances, he or should would be fired and face disciplinary charges. There is now a trend of the Drug Enforcement Agency becoming involved and filing federal criminal charges.

A case from this summer is an example of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) taking a much tougher stance on those professionals who are addicted to prescription drugs. On July 27, 2009, in federal court in Minneapolis, a Minnesota Registered Nurse, Julie Crystal Fronk, was sentenced to one year in prison and one year of supervised release for obtaining a controlled substance for her own use by fraud while employed as a registered nurse at a home health care agency. In addition, Ms. Fronk was the former assistant head of nursing at the home health agency.

Ms. Fronk's sentence came after she was charged on March 4 and plead guilty on March 23, 2009. According to Ms. Fronk’s plea agreement, she admitted that from May 2008 through July 2008, she knowingly and intentionally obtained Vicodin by misrepresentation, fraud and deception after the pills had been prescribed to others. Ms. Fronk also admitted she failed to dispose of the Vicodin properly. Instead, she admitted acquiring the pills for her own use and benefit.

Ms. Fronk's case had some aggravated facts that triggered prosecution and the seeking of prison time since there were allegations that critically ill patients were harmed due to Ms. Fronk's actions. During sentencing, testimony was taken from a patient representative regarding the theft of Morphine diverted from a patient who was dying and on hospice care. It was alleged that this patient died in unimaginable pain due to the actions of Nurse Fronk.

Attorney Comments: Seeing an addict sentenced to prison is done every day in state and federal courts. When it is a licensed professional who will face discipline of their license there is a type of "double jeopardy" that makes these cases more painful. The government takes the position that Ms. Fronk or other addicted licensed professionals like her are abusing their position of trust as medical professionals by stealing pain medication prescribed for patients and using it for their own personal use. As a nursing board attorney, medical board attorney and attorney for other health care providers, we have handled many cases involving substance abuse by professionals.

The tougher stance by the DEA and other government agencies should be one reason for any addicted professionals to seek help as soon as possible before their addiction causes them to lose their license and/or be prosecuted criminally. The time to take action if before any prosecutions or disciplinary actions are brought. Those of us who work with addicted professionals know that without serious action and intervention, it is a matter of time before the unthinkable happens to them or someone under their care. Health care professionals are at special risk for developing addiction problems due, in part, to the stress on the job and the easy access to controlled substances.

Moreover, diversion programs are no longer as available as they were in the past due to public outcry that the disciplinary boards are allowing addicted professionals to work and endangering the public. In California, for example, the Medical Board eliminated its diversion program.

Any questions or comments should be directed to: Tracy Green is a principal at Green and Associates in Los Angeles, California. They focus their practice on the representation of licensed professionals, individuals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing licensed health care providers including nurses before disciplinary boards. Their website is:


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