RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A former Fuquay-Varina nurse was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for tampering with painkillers intended for surgery patients.

On March 9, 2022, 45-year-old Melissa Elizabeth Chacona pleaded guilty to the charges, U.S. Attorney Michael Easley said in a news release.

According to court documents and other information presented in court, Chacona worked as a nurse at a Raleigh-area surgical practice.

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In early 2019, she began taking the medication from vials of fentanyl, morphine, and meperidine and replacing it with saline, Easley said.

She did this for several months, compromising at least 78 vials, including those intended for surgical patients. Testing revealed that compromised vials contained less than 15% of the actual medication and that the tampering had rendered multiple vials unsterile, Easley said.

Chacona, who also will have three years of supervised release, had already been convicted at the state level for diverting medication earlier in her nursing career. Her plea agreement requires permanent surrender of her nursing license.

“Surgical patients trust healthcare providers to give them the medicines they need. Ms. Chacona abused her position of trust to steal powerful prescription pain medications intended for surgical patients and replace them with saline,” said Easley. “In delivering today’s sentence the judge noted that these patients were in the most vulnerable position. My office will continue to pursue healthcare providers whose crimes jeopardize public safety.”

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III.