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Former Bellevue nurse charged with drug tampering

A nurse who worked at plastic surgery clinics in Bellevue and Kirkland was recently charged for tampering with painkillers and stimulants – an alleged act that caused a patient on an operating table to have a seizure as if in a “possessed” state.

Angela Ann Huffman of Seattle was charged with one count of tampering with consumer products on Nov. 8 in an ongoing investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration that also claims she stole several drugs.

A special agent with the DEA alleges Huffman, a registered nurse since July 2012 in her mid-30s, tampered with a drug vial that was supposed to contain fentanyl, a narcotic painkiller and anesthetic.

On May 16, a 20-year-old woman was to undergo plastic surgery when another registered nurse administered midazolam, a sedative and muscle relaxant, and the supposed fentanyl.

But the patient's reactions were nearly opposite of what is considered normal.

“The expected bodily response to a dose of fentanyl is the loss of consciousness, temporary elimination of sensitivity to pain, and a slowed heart rate,” probable cause documents state.

The woman’s heart rate skyrocketed, her body seized and she was lifted off the operating table on her arms and legs, the documents continue.

The nurse told the DEA agent the patient was “writing in an extremely unexpected and unnatural fashion, and appeared 'possessed.’”

Ten days prior, charging documents state the nurse who administered the drugs was on vacation and Huffman was responsible for keeping inventory of the controlled substances, which are kept in a lockbox.

But as soon as the other nurse returned, she noticed a bottle of fentanyl and two vials of hydromorphone – commonly known as Dilaudid, a painkiller – were missing.

When asked where they were, Huffman allegedly suggested the items had been wasted during a surgical procedure, “a statement inconsistent with the recollections of medical staff present during the surgery,” charging documents state.

Blood analysis on the 20-year-old patient revealed that the bottle labeled “fentanyl” contained a different substance. And according to the doctor at the plastic surgery clinic, the patient’s reaction was consistent with symptoms of taking a dose of epinephrine, a cardiac stimulant.

Charging documents state the drug could have caused a heart attack if the woman had been older or had a heart condition.

Huffman was present during that operation, the documents continue, but denies that she tampered with the fentanyl.

After the other nurse observed a third discrepancy with the controlled substances, Huffman was terminated on May 31.

Before working at the Kirkland plastic surgery clinic, Huffman was employed by a small Bellevue plastic surgery practice from August 2012 through April 22, 2013.

The nurse discovered a bottle of fentanyl missing and when she asked Huffman about it, charging documents state she told the nurse “it was probably misplaced and would eventually be found.”

But the next day, the bottle suddenly reappeared in the lockbox, which is only accessible to the clinic’s doctor, the other nurse and Huffman.

The Kirkland clinic’s staff reported Huffman’s conduct to the Washington Nursing Commission and the following day the commission informed staff Huffman admitted to removing hydromorphone out of the vials and replacing it with saline.

Huffman went on to confess to stealing hydromorphone and meperidine – commonly known as Demerol, a painkiller - through text messages directed toward the clinic’s staff.

“The defendant claimed to have developed a narcotic addiction following the legitimate prescriptions of hydromorphone and oxycodone in February 2013 by the doctor at [a Bellevue plastic surgery clinic],” the probable cause documents state. “The defendant also admitted to forging prescriptions for controlled substances using the name of the doctor at [the Bellevue clinic] …”

The Bellevue practice terminated her after doctors discovered Huffman had allegedly forged prescriptions for at least 14 different prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, which include hydrocodone, hydromorphone and the sedative zolpidem tartrate.

Huffman confessed to the forgeries before she was fired and also said she used “her sister’s driver’s license and credit card to obtain a prescription for hydromorphone on at least one occasion.”

Although the doctor tried to help her find addiction treatment, Huffman denied it.

After the Bellevue practice was notified of her most recent confession regarding the Kirkland clinic, DEA officials discovered three significantly diluted vials of meperidine at the Bellevue location.

Staff at the Kirkland clinic continued to uncover evidence of other tampered substances, which included five compromised fentanyl vials. The tape had been peeled off and reapplied, and the rubber stopper was poked with a needle, documents state.

The DEA tested the vials and discovered all had been “completely” refilled with an unknown liquid.

But Huffman was able to secure work this last July at a Seattle medical provider, which does not store or administer any controlled substances. She allegedly told the Seattle office that she was still employed at the Bellevue clinic and did not disclose that she had worked at the Kirkland office.

However, she was promptly fired two weeks later after her employer was notified of the circumstances of both terminations.

Probable cause documents state Huffman is currently employed at a medical office in Tukwila that does not administer controlled substances and it is unknown whether her employer knows of her work history.

At this time, Huffman’s Registered Nurse license is still active, according to the Washington State Department of Health. However, according to a Department of Health spokeswoman, the Nursing Commission has opened her case for investigation.

Huffman posted bail on Nov. 12 and is ordered to appear at a preliminary examination at 3:30 p.m., Nov. 22 at the U.S. District Court in Seattle before United States Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue.

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