A Dighton nurse is charged in federal court in Boston with drug tampering and accused of diverting pain medication from an elderly cancer patient who was in hospice care.

Marietta Strickland, 61, was working as a registered nurse at Dighton Care and Rehabilitation Center when she allegedly tampered with three blister card packages of oxycodone prescribed to an 89-year-old patient with Alzheimer’s, dementia and breast cancer, according to the Office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.

To avoid detection, Strickland allegedly replaced the stolen oxycodone pills with other prescription drugs disguised to look like oxycodone. As a result, the victim was deprived of her prescribed oxycodone for more than two months and ingested at least 77 unnecessary prescription tablets, federal prosecutors said.

Strickland now faces one count of tampering with a consumer product, specifically the Schedule II controlled substance oxycodone, Lelling's office announced.

The charging statute provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Jeffrey Ebersole, Special Agent in Charge of the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations; Phillip Coyne, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General; and Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elysa Wan of Lelling’s Health Care Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.

Statistics from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the American Nurses Association suggest that about 10 percent of health care workers are abusing drugs. Due to the easy access to medications in health care settings, diversion can be difficult to detect and prevent. The Drug Enforcement Administration recognizes five classes of drugs that are frequently abused: opioids, depressants, hallucinogens, stimulants, and anabolic steroids. A major driver of diversion is opioid abuse, according to the DEA.

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