By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A Florida nurse who worked at a Jacksonville hospital pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing fentanyl and replacing the powerful pain medication with saline.

Monique Elizabeth Carter, 35, of Middleburg, pleaded guilty in Jacksonville federal court to tampering with a consumer product, according to court records. She faces up to 10 years in prison. A sentencing date wasn’t immediately set.

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According to the plea agreement, Carter was working in the neural intensive care unit of Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville in September when a hospital pharmacist examining the ICU wing’s inventory of fentanyl found a syringe missing a tamper-proof cap but with some form of foreign adhesive remaining at the tip. A second fentanyl syringe had a cap that appeared to have been glued back onto the syringe.

A pharmacist supervisor reviewing hospital records found a pattern of Carter checking out doses of fentanyl for patients but then canceling the transactions and checking syringes back into the hospital’s inventory. Records showed that Carter did so 24 times over the preceding month.

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When confronted with the findings, Carter eventually admitted that she had been stealing the fentanyl for personal use for several months, officials said. Carter denied injecting herself with the drug while on duty. Law enforcement officers reported finding needles, saline syringes and adhesive in her bag.

As a registered nurse, Carter knew that her actions likely resulted in critically ill patients receiving diluted fentanyl that was not safe and effective, prosecutors said. Having been deprived of sterile, medically necessary medication, such patients were exposed to possible infection and endured unnecessary pain and suffering, officials said. Failure to anesthetize or control pain in intensive care unit patients can also increase the risk of illness or death from respiratory, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal complications.

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