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Nurse pleads no contest to drug charge

December 17, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- A nurse accused of stealing medication that she then injected herself with during a surgical procedure at Veterans Affairs Medical Center pleaded no contest Wednesday in Berkeley County Magistrate Court to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

Mitzi K. Churchey, 59, of Berkeley County, was placed on one year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $100 fine and continue treatment she is currently receiving, according to attorneys handling the case.

A six-month jail sentence was suspended and the felony charge of obtaining a controlled substance by deception or subterfuge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Churchey's attorney, Harley O. Wagner, said his client simply did something "foolish" to alleviate symptoms of a medically diagnosed severe anxiety disorder and had no criminal history.

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Since being arraigned last month, Churchey voluntarily resigned from her position at the VA, Wagner said. She intends to petition a Maryland licensing board to be reinstated, her attorney said.

According to a complaint filed by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, Churchey assumed the role of "monitoring nurse" with a plan to take some of the Fentanyl medication prescribed by an anesthesiologist for a patient in the operating room Oct. 3, 2008. Fentanyl is an often abused painkilling drug that is more potent than morphine, according to webmd.com.

Another nurse in the operating room told a Department of Veterans Affairs investigator that Churchey appeared sleepy and she saw Churchey "closing her eyes repeatedly." Police had said she injected one milliliter of Fentanyl into her right wrist.

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