A former registered nurse who admitted stealing the prescription painkiller Demerol while on the job last year at Hale County Hospital will spend more than four years in prison for it, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in Mobile.

Jane Clements, 41, also must repay her former employer $2,087.79, the value of the stolen drugs. U.S. District Judge Charles Butler Jr. ordered Clements to undergo substance abuse treatment as part of the three years of probation she must complete upon her release.

During routine checks, Clements' co-workers discovered that someone had replaced the Demerol in 23 syringes with sterile water, according to a supervisor at the hospital. No patients were harmed, officials said.

Demerol -- a brand name for meperidine hydrochloride -- is among the most addictive prescribed opium-based pain relievers, along with OxyContin and Vicodin, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which investigated the case. Demerol is frequently abused, sometimes by medical staff who have fairly easy access to it.

Many hospitals test new employees for drug use and may test again if they suspect drug abuse, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Often hospitals offer treatment programs for staff with chemical dependencies.

Hospital officials said Clement worked at Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa for several years before spending about 18 months at Hale County Hospital, a 39-bed facility in Greensboro, the county seat. Officials at the Alabama Board of Nursing declined to say Tuesday whether Clements retained her license, although state guidelines prohibit anyone with her type of conviction from working as a nurse.

Clements' case was handled in Mobile because Hale County falls within the northern division of the federal Southern District of Alabama.
2006 - 2022