SALT LAKE CITY — A former Intermountain Healthcare nurse was convicted Thursday by a jury in federal court of stealing narcotics from a surgical ward and replacing painkillers with saline in syringes to be used by other hospital staff.
Nathan Pehrson, 41, of Sandy, was convicted of three counts related to fraudulently obtaining and tampering with the painkilling narcotic hydromorphone, a Schedule II opioid drug, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
Pehrson was also convicted of making false statements to a special agent from the FDA during the investigation.
Hydromorphone is used to treat patients with moderate to severe pain. While Pehrson worked in a surgical and trauma ward, federal prosecutors say he "diverted hydromorphone from pre-loaded syringes for his personal use, replaced the pain medication with saline solution, and then returned the syringes containing greatly reduced amounts of the painkiller hydromorphone for medical use by other hospital staff."
According to Pehrson's federal indictment, he told an FDA agent that he had never diverted or used drugs. He said he had tried to meet with his employer about the accusations but that his employer would not meet with him.
Prosecutors say those claims were untrue because Pehrson "knew that he had diverted drugs, had used drugs, had been reprimanded for violating hospital policies at work, and that his employer had tried to meet with him about his diverting of drugs," the indictment states.
"Today's guilty verdicts are proof that health care providers will be held accountable for stealing, using, or tampering with opioid pain medications meant for patients that are suffering," acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Andrea T. Martinez said in the statement.
"The opioid epidemic has many faces, and no one is immune from the problems that we face in society with drug addiction. I commend the hospital staff who reported the defendant's illegal activity to federal law enforcement," she said.
An Intermountain Healthcare spokesman declined to comment on the verdict Saturday.
Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City field office noted that those who tamper with medicines endanger patients' health.
"We will continue to protect the public health and bring to justice health care professionals who take advantage of their unique position and compromise their patients' health and comfort by tampering with needed drugs," Grinstead said.