When you think of big drug crimes, something resembling the plot of Breaking Bad may enter your mind. You might imagine large-scale drug trafficking rings of heroin or cocaine that are run by violent drug dealers who live a lavish life in secrecy.
Does this really match the reality, though? Sometimes. Not all drug crimes involve dealers making and selling illegal drugs, however. Drug diversion is a crime that occurs when perfectly legal substances are taken away from people who need those drugs. The individuals committing these crimes typically aren’t kingpins or gangsters. In fact, in many cases they’re medical professionals.
Fentanyl Theft Leads to Federal Charges
One drug diversion case from the University of Colorado Hospital recently made national news. Kacye Unruh, 30, was brought to federal custody earlier this month after discrepancies led hospital officials to believe that she was replacing vials of the painkillers fentanyl and dilaudid with saline solution.
Why is this a big deal? Because fentanyl is more potent than heroin. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is also the most common drug stolen from Colorado hospitals.
The story, however, gets worse. Unruh’s indictment this November was not a first experience for her – she had previously been caught stealing drugs from an Oklahoma hospital in 2015, as well as earlier this year.
Many of these drugs were stolen for personal use. So when Unruh was caught at this time, the hospital had to advise “less than 50 patients” to get tested for hepatitis C, which could be transmitted through the syringes used by Unruh.
Stealing Fentanyl in United States Hospitals
It may seem absurd that the University of Colorado Hospital didn’t know about Unruh’s criminal past when she was hired, but this is unfortunately a common problem throughout Colorado and other hospitals around the country. In fact, Unruh’s story resembles a shorter version of a big news story from last year – one that also occurred at a Colorado hospital.
Rocky Allen was a surgical tech who was caught stealing and using fentanyl while working at the Swedish Medical Center in Colorado. When the hospital made the story public, it was revealed that he had been fired from five hospitals around the country in addition to being court-martialed during his time in the military… all for stealing fentanyl.
After the story broke, over 2,900 patients were advised to get tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV because Allen had admitted he had a blood borne pathogen. Swedish Medical Center even offered these tests free for patients who might have been affected by Allen’s crimes.
That’s the medical side of the incident. On the criminal end, Allen was charged of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deceit. He faced up to 14 years in prison and $500,000 in fines, but after pleading guilty received a reduced sentence of 78 months.
More Drug Diversions Cases in Colorado
It’s not just these two incidents. Drug diversions are unfortunately a common crime in our state. In fact, a Colorado hospital fires an employee on suspicion of drug diversion once every two weeks.
Charges and convictions can lead to medical professionals permanently losing the right to work in the medical field. In fact, half of all employees who are involved in drug diversion lose their license to practice.
A lot of people are being accused of stealing drugs here, though. Are all of them guilty? Probably not. Unfortunately, even though the law of the land is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty,” Colorado has no problem exposing anyone who has been charged with these crimes.
If you are accused of drug diversion, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to fight back. Not only do you face serious criminal charges, but also the potentially lifelong consequences of losing your license and ruining your good name. Contact a Colorado drug crime lawyer to start building the strongest defense possible today.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.