CEDAR RAPIDS — A Charles City nurse anesthetist who secretly tampered with vials of fentanyl in a hospital’s surgery and birthing centers was sentenced Friday to nearly three years in federal prison.
Christopher Scott West, 46, received the prison term after an Aug. 1 guilty plea to one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of acquiring and attempting to acquire a controlled substance by means of misrepresentation, fraud, deception, and subterfuge.
Beginning in 2017, West was a certified nurse anesthetist at a hospital in Charles City. Court records state from February 2018 through Sept. 7, 2018, he gained access to two controlled substances, fentanyl and sufentanil.
West perforated tamper-proof paper around the vials, carefully opened the vials, replaced the drugs in the vials with saline, glued the vials shut, and placed the vials back in the hospital’s secure dispensaries.
The hospital discovered West’s scheme Sept. 7, 2018, when a visitor discovered West passed out in a public bathroom. West had a rubber tourniquet and empty and full vials of propofol, another drug used in anesthesia, in his coat pocket. After the hospital declined West’s request to keep his drug theft scheme “internal,” West told the hospital’s pharmacist she needed to remove vials that were supposed to contain narcotics in the surgery center because he did not want those adulterated narcotics used on patients.
The pharmacist found tampered vials of fentanyl in the surgery center. Over the ensuing weekend, the pharmacist also checked the hospital’s birthing center and found tampered vials there, too. In total, the hospital discovered 28 tampered vials of fentanyl and 15 tampered vials of sufentanil.
On Sept. 9, 2018, West admitted to the hospital’s surgeon he had administered three different forms of anesthesia to a young patient in part so he would have narcotics left over for his personal use. The patient suffered complications and required an extra day in the hospital and intermittent catheterizations. A subsequent review revealed West had purported to use fentanyl in colonoscopies and cataract surgeries as early as December 2017. A review revealed one in four of West’s spinal anesthesia patients received narcotics that were insufficient to reduce labor pain, such that the women giving birth also required general anesthesia.
West was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by U.S. District Court Judge C.J. Williams to 34 months’ imprisonment and fined $15,000. He was ordered to make $31,998.34 in restitution to the hospital and ordered to pay $3,158.18 in costs of prosecution.
He must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system. The district court also ordered West to forfeit his two Iowa nursing licenses.
“Medical professionals have an obligation to care for some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan. “By his selfish actions, Mr. West took advantage of his trusted position at his local community hospital. He endangered the health and very lives of patients at the hospital. This sentence sends a clear message that such dangerous behavior will not be tolerated.”
West is to surrender to the U.S. States Marshal on a date yet to be set. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Vavricek and investigated by the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, and the Charles City Police Department.