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Lawsuit seeks up to $11.5M over allegations that Oregon nurse replaced fentanyl drip with tap water

By Associated Press
Published: February 27, 2024, 5:44pm

MEDFORD, Ore. — The first lawsuit brought amid reports that a nurse at a southern Oregon hospital replaced intravenous fentanyl drips with tap water seeks up to $11.5 million on behalf of the estate of a 65-year-old man who died.

The wrongful death suit was filed Monday against Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. It also names nurse Dani Marie Schofield as a defendant.

Last month, Medford police disclosed that they were investigating potential crimes against patients involving the theft of “controlled substances,” which may have led to “adverse” outcomes for some.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that has helped fuel the nation’s overdose epidemic, but it is also used in legitimate medical settings to relieve severe pain. Drug theft from hospitals is a longstanding problem.

Police declined to provide more information. Schofield agreed to a voluntary nursing license suspension last November “pending the completion of an investigation,” according to Oregon Board of Nursing records. No charges have been filed.

Justin Idiart, a southern Oregon lawyer, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he represents nine clients whose medication was swapped out, and five others have reached out for possible representation. They include the loved ones of patients who died as well as some who survived. All of his clients were treated by Schofield, he said.

Other local law firms also have been exploring litigation. Attorneys say they expect as many as three dozen cases could be filed.

The hospital did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday. The AP could not immediately locate contact information for Schofield, and it was not clear if Schofield is represented by an attorney.

“We were distressed to learn of this issue,” Asante said in a statement last month. “We reported it to law enforcement and are working closely with them.”

Idiart filed the lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court over the death of Horace E. Wilson, who died in February 2022. Wilson, the founder of a cannabis company called Decibel Farms in Jacksonville, Oregon, was treated at the hospital after he fell off a ladder. He suffered bleeding from his spleen and had it removed.

But doctors then noted “unexplained high fevers, very high white blood cell counts, and a precipitous decline,” the complaint said. Tests confirmed an infection of treatment-resistant bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis. Wilson progressed to multi-system organ failure and died weeks later.

Idiart said patients who were deprived of medication suffered as a result of the medication diversion. In Wilson’s case, his family believed he was in pain even though he was supposed to be sedated, Idiart said.

Asante last December contacted Medford police regarding a former employee “that they believe was involved in the theft of fentanyl prescribed to patients resulting in some adverse patient outcomes,” the complaint said.

That month, hospital representatives “began contacting patients and their relatives telling them a nurse had replaced fentanyl with tap water causing bacterial infections,” it said.

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