JEFFERSON HILLS – A New Eagle woman faces charges that she put patients at risk by substituting their medications to steal narcotic painkillers to satisfy her drug habit while working at a hospital in Allegheny County.
An agent with the state attorney general’s office arrested Cheryl L. Ashcraft, 43, of 342 Center Ave., Friday, on allegations she gave as many as 362 patients at Jefferson Regional Medical Center nonnarcotic drugs disguised as oxycodone between June and October 2012, court records show.
The alleged actions by Ashcraft that were discovered after a patient’s daughter questioned a nurse Oct. 22 about a pill about to be given to her mother led to the pharmacy tech’s firing from the Jefferson Hills hospital, agent Andrew Sakmar stated in the affidavit.
The patient’s relative took a photo that day of the pill on her smartphone, looked it up on the Internet and stated it was not oxycodone, which was supposed to be in the sealed packet the nurse opened. The nurse then asked a pharmacist to identify the pill, which turned out to be methimazole, a thyroid drug, the court record indicates.
The pharmacist then checked the hospital’s narcotics vault and found other single-unit dose packages known as blister packs that had been repackaged with incorrect medications. At that point, all oxycodone 5 milligram products were pulled from the vault and locked elsewhere while an investigation was conducted, the record shows.
The investigation revealed that nearly half of the 526 single-unit doses contained the wrong drugs and that they had been labeled with Ashcraft’s initials, Sakmar stated.
Ashcraft allegedly confessed to investigators that she was the only person involved in the scheme and that she had been taking as many as 10 of the oxycodone tablets per day over a four-month period.
She was arraigned Friday before District Judge Pat A. Capolupo on a felony charge of a prohibited acts and misdemeanor counts of theft, reckless endangerment and oxycodone possession. Capolupo released Ashcraft on recognizance bond and set her preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. Jan. 30. It was not immediately known Tuesday if Ashcraft had obtained an attorney to represent her in the case.
Hospital spokeswoman Candy Williams said the staff was not aware of any patients who suffered an adverse reaction to having been given the wrong medication in the case.
She said the hospital reported the thefts to authorities and since has been supportive of the investigation.
“While we have no additional comments on the former Jefferson Regional employee, we would like to assure all of our patients that their safety and the quality of the care they receive at our hospital has always been our top priority,” Williams said.
Pittsburgh attorney Brendan Lupetin said he plans to file negligence lawsuits against the hospital on behalf of eight families of patients who were given the wrong drugs as a result of Ashcraft’s alleged crimes.
He said the hospital should have better supervised the pharmacy, and it didn’t appear to have tested any of the patients in regards to their having been given the wrong medications.