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Former Kirkland, Bellevue nurse pleads not guilty to drug tampering, fraud charges
A former Kirkland nurse pleaded not guilty to drug tampering and fraud charges Thursday morning.
Angela Ann Huffman of Seattle stood before Chief Judge Mary Alice Theiler at the U.S. District Court in Seattle, facing two counts of tampering with consumer products and one count of acquiring a controlled substance by fraud.
Drug Enforcement Administration investigators allege Huffman tampered with painkillers and stimulants when she worked at plastic surgery clinics in Kirkland and Bellevue this past spring.
A registered nurse since July 2012, Huffman, who is in her mid-30s, allegedly tampered with a drug that was supposed to contain fentanyl, a narcotic painkiller and anesthetic, at the Kirkland plastic surgery clinic.
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 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 other nurse told the DEA agent the patient was “writhing 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 safeguarded 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.
Huffman was present during that operation but denied that she tampered with any drugs.
She was soon terminated after the other nurse observed a third discrepancy with the controlled substances.
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 vials and replacing them 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] …”
Before working at the Kirkland plastic surgery clinic, Huffman was employed at the small Bellevue plastic surgery practice from August 2012 through April 22.
The Bellevue practice terminated her after doctors discovered the forged prescriptions for at least 14 different narcotic painkillers.
Although the doctor tried to help her find addiction treatment, Huffman denied it.
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.
According to a Department of Health spokeswoman, the Nursing Commission is investigating whether Huffman may keep her Registered Nurse license.
Huffman’s jury trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Jan. 21 before Judge John C. Coughenour at the U.S. District Court in Seattle.