Nurse's tampering case a first here


BY BEN L. KAUFMAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Leslie Burchenal — charged with stealing a patient's morphine at Drake Center and refilling the vial with tap water — is the first person indicted in Southern Ohio under the 1983 law banning tampering with consumer products, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne L. Porter said on Monday.

Conviction under the anti-tampering law — enacted the year after someone injected deadly cyanide into Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules — virtually condemns the former registered nurse to at least five years in prison if convicted.

“She faces a penalty as severe as if she were caught with five kilograms of coke,” her federal public defender, W. Kelly Johnson, confirmed.

The law makes consumer product tampering a felony if it is done with “reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to such risk.”

The law focuses on food, drugs, medical devices and cosmetics, but it covers all consumer goods moving in interstate commerce.

Ms. Porter said tampering can be aimed at large numbers of people or one potential or actual victim.

There was no evidence Ms. Burchenal's patient was injected with tap water, but police said the patient complained she had not received her morphine on the day of the suspected substitution.

Most health care professionals suspected of stealing drugs are charged under state law.

Ms. Burchenal, 43, of Wyoming, is the first or one of the first health professionals in the Cincinnati area to be indicted by a federal grand jury.

Cincinnati police brought her case to federal authorities. Officers on the pharmaceutical diversion squad feared Ms. Burchenal would be granted probation if convicted in a state court even though she had two drug-related felony convictions in Virginia and a failed attempt at rehabilitation.

“What distinguished her was her background,” Ms. Porter confirmed.

Ms. Burchenal, hired through a temporary nursing agency, had been working at Drake on and off for about a month last year when another nurse drew attention to the suspected drug diversion and substitution.

Since the incident, Ohio has suspended Ms. Burchenal's nursing license, pending the outcome of her criminal case.

She has her first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jack Sherman Jr. on Dec. 30 when bond will be set.



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