Prescription drug abuse a major problem among Oklahoma nurses

by Andrew Knittle Published: July 6, 2014
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Nurses stealing prescription drugs is among the most serious issues facing today’s Oklahoma Nursing Board, which disciplines hundreds of licensees each year for violating the nursing code.

According to the most recent annual report released by the board, 13 percent of all cases opened by its investigators in 2013 were drug-related. Only cases involving “nursing practice,” a far broader category, were more numerous.

Last year, a record 1,552 cases were reported to the board.

Lauri Jones, a registered nurse and president of the Oklahoma Nursing Board, said diversion of addictive drugs among nurses is one of the most common issues the board deals with.

Jones, of Chickasha, said drugs, practice-related issues and the neglect and abuse of patients are the “top three” problems facing Oklahoma nurses.

But it’s drugs — the abuse and theft of them — that looms the largest.

“When you have an addict, you have a person who is going to manipulate systems and people,” Jones said. “If you have an addict as a practicing nurse, they’re going to manipulate whoever they can.”

Nurses work throughout Oklahoma, in a variety of settings. Some of them work in sprawling campuses in Oklahoma City or Tulsa. Others work in small clinics in small towns, or for doctors in private practices in the suburbs. Many go to work every day in a patient’s home.

Regardless of where they are, nurses have access to medications, many of them narcotics.

An open records request made by The Oklahoman to the Oklahoma Nursing board, which covered a 10-year period ending on March 31, reveals that some nurses paid a hefty price for stealing drugs or using their position as a nurse to get them.

A little more than a year ago, Kawinta Biagas-Robinson was cited on a violation of the Oklahoma Nursing Practice Act by diverting morphine and other drugs meant for “at least two patients” while she worked as a staff nurse at Community Hospital in Oklahoma City.

Just a few weeks before she was fired by Community Hospital, Biagas-Robinson was fired from Midwest Regional Medical Center in Midwest City accused of stealing highly addictive painkillers meant for “at least seven patients.”

Biagas-Robinson also was fired from Norman Regional Hospital in August 2008 after she refused to provide a sample for a drug test. Board records show that the nurse was accused of stealing “a large amount of morphine ... for administration to several patients without documentation of pain.”

Records show that Biagas-Robinson drew a $10,000 fine from the nursing board. Her license is revoked, meaning she no longer is licensed to practice nursing in Oklahoma.

Other nurses use outright fraud to get drugs.

In September 2007, a woman working as a field nurse for Gentiva Health Services in Stroud used her position as a nurse to secure more than 3,000 tablets of Lortab, a highly addictive painkiller, records show.

A board order filed against Jeanne Loree McGinnis, who also acquired Xanax in her scheme, shows that the nurse simply called a pharmacy and told them she was calling from the office of a local doctor and that the medication was for a patient.

McGinnis’ ruse lasted for four months before she was caught and charged with a list of felonies in March 2008. The woman’s nursing license was surrendered after she failed to complete a substance abuse treatment program. She would also plead guilty to drug charges, drawing a five-year probation term.

McGinnis was fined $9,000 by the Oklahoma Nursing Board, one of the largest fines handed down by the board in the past 10 years. She is no longer a licensed nurse in Oklahoma, board records show.


by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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By the numbers

$657,250

Amount in fines handed out in 2012 by the Oklahoma Nursing Board to nurses who had violated the laws of their profession.

700

Number of disciplinary hearings held by the nursing board for the third year in a row.

$373,100

Amount collected in fines from the disciplinary hearings.

10.5 percent

Percentage of revenue received by the Oklahoma Nursing Board through the payment of fines. It was the largest such percentage in the past 10 years, records show.

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