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Nurse pleads guilty to illegally possessing fentanyl, court records show

Fentanyl injections seized during a raid by Nassau

Fentanyl injections seized during a raid by Nassau County Police in 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former North Shore University Hospital nurse has admitted to a felony drug offense after her arrest earlier this year for allegedly stealing more than 1,400 vials of fentanyl from the Manhasset facility while working in the cardiac unit.

Court records show Melissa Frame, 37, of Merrick, pleaded guilty last week in Nassau County Court to a felony charge of possessing fentanyl with intent to sell the narcotic and a misdemeanor fentanyl possession charge.

Frame’s attorney, Steven Gaitman, told Newsday on Monday that she had entered a court-ordered diversion program as part of her plea deal. He declined to comment further on the case in which Acting State Supreme Court Justice William O’Brien is presiding.

The Nassau district attorney’s office confirmed Frame’s plea to what a spokesman called "the top count B felony and a misdemeanor," but said prosecutors objected to diversion in the case.

"The NCDA supports diversion when appropriate and by statute this defendant was eligible for judicial diversion. The defendant received a judicial diversion plea over the objections of the NCDA," spokesman Brendan Brosh added Monday in a statement.

If Frame successfully finishes the diversion program, both charges will be dismissed. But if she violates conditions, she will face between two and three years in prison, according to authorities.

On Oct. 13, Frame waived an indictment and agreed to be prosecuted on the charges that were part of her plea, a court filing shows.

Prosecutors said at the time of Frame’s arrest in May that she faced several felony counts, which included grand larceny and falsifying business records charges along with two drug offenses. They also said then that Frame faced up to nine years in prison if convicted of the top charge against her.

At the time, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s local special agent-in-charge called the fentanyl theft by a hospital employee "a sad, yet stark reminder of how hard-hitting this opioid epidemic really is."

Authorities said the federal agency teamed with the Nassau district attorney’s office to investigate the case after hospital officials reported the alleged criminal activity and fired Frame.

Prosecutors had alleged Frame stole 1,467 vials of fentanyl and 223 vials of midazolam between October and December of last year 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 showed none of those drugs went to patients, prosecutors said.

A felony complaint in the case said the amount of fentanyl Frame allegedly stole was equal to about two kilograms of a drug containing the narcotic — worth between $120,000 to $150,000 on the street. Authorities also had claimed that based on the volume of drugs and frequency with which Frame allegedly stole the controlled substances that she had intent to sell them, saying the amount was "inconsistent with personal usage."

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that the DEA says is from 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Local experts told Newsday earlier this year that fentanyl use has primarily caused the rising drug overdose death toll on Long Island during the coronavirus pandemic.

Midazolam is a benzodiazepine, or central nervous system depressant, that can be used to produce sleepiness and relieve patient anxiety before surgery as well as for loss of consciousness during surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Frame became a registered nurse in 2011, according to online state records from the Office of the Professions that show she still holds a nursing license and is due to re-register in May 2022.

A spokeswoman for Northwell Health, the New Hyde Park-based health care system that includes North Shore, said after Frame’s arrest that Frame had worked for the hospital for about 14 years before her firing.

Hospital officials kicked off a review and then notified law enforcement officials after discovering a problem while doing routine monitoring of prescription dispensing activities, the spokeswoman also said then.

Frame’s attorney said after her initial court arraignment in May that she had no prior criminal convictions and already had finished an in-patient program that involved drug treatment.

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