A former North Shore University Hospital cardiac unit nurse is facing felony charges after allegedly stealing more than 1,400 vials of fentanyl worth up to $75,000 on the street from the Manhasset facility last year, prosecutors said Tuesday.
An attorney for Melissa Frame, 36, of Merrick, entered a not guilty plea for her on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, grand larceny and falsifying business records, during a virtual court arraignment.
The Nassau district attorney’s office alleged Frame stole 1,467 vials of fentanyl and 223 vials of midazolam between October and December by using her fingerprints and a unique identification number to access a medication dispensing machine more than 50 times.
Each time the defendant noted a patient's name to correspond with the medication she took, but a review of records showed none of those drugs went to patients, according to prosecutors.
State records show Frame has held a license as a registered nurse since 2011. She is facing up to nine years in prison if found guilty of the top charge.
Frame worked for Northwell Health, the New Hyde Park-based health care system that includes North Shore, for about 14 years, Northwell spokeswoman Barbara Osborn said.
"As part of Northwell Health's routine monitoring of prescription dispensing activities, we discovered unusual activity by one of our employees. After conducting a review of the matter and reporting the activity to the relevant authorities, including the Nassau County District Attorney's Office, the employee was terminated," she added in a statement.
Nassau District Court Judge David Levine released Frame on her own recognizance.
Defense attorney Steven Gaitman told the judge that Frame had no prior criminal convictions and he expected prosecutors to send the case to diversion court. He also said his client already had finished an "in-patient program," which he said after court involved drug treatment. Gaitman declined further comment on the case.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says is from 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Local experts told Newsday last month that fentanyl use has primarily caused the rising drug death toll on Long Island during the coronavirus pandemic. Projected fatal overall drug overdoses increased 34% in Nassau and nearly 12% in Suffolk during 2020.
Midazolam is a benzodiazepine used for sedation, anxiety and amnesia in critical care settings and before anesthesia, according to the DEA, which says opioid users often co-abuse such drugs to enhance euphoria.
"The theft of this fentanyl by a hospital employee is a sad, yet stark reminder of how hard-hitting this opioid epidemic really is," Ray Donovan, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York Division, said in a statement Tuesday.
The DEA teamed with the Nassau district attorney’s office on the probe, which authorities called ongoing.