Four months…that is how long Cali May Arndt was stealing fentanyl, hydromorphone and morphine from patients who needed it for pain management. She was actively stealing powerful painkillers from patients in order to feed her own drug addiction every day.
This happened at Fairview Southdale Hospital where Arndt was working as a registered nurse. She would use a syringe to remove the fentanyl, hydromorphone and morphine from the vials that were located in the “secured automated medication dispensing systems.” She would cover up her own crimes by replacing the taken drugs with a saline solution.
She did resign from Fairview Southdale a day after the investigation began. In February 2013, the Minnesota Board of Nursing also decided to suspend her license.
More about the Findings
The interesting thing is that these charges came forward as the Minnesota Legislature is actively considering bills that are going to tighten the overview of the state on nurses that are struggling with a drug addiction. Oftentimes the patients are at serious risk because of the nurses’ theft of drugs and other misconduct.
Arndt signed the Nursing Board’s consent order that had the following findings:
- The nurse admits that she began stealing these dangerous painkillers in June 2012, the theft would continue for four months. According to Arndt, she had developed a Percocet addiction after treating her chronic back pain.
- She admits to replacing the drugs with saline solution and admits to stealing from the hospital during every shift that she worked. She also admits that there were times that she would steal drugs more than once per shift.
- She also acknowledges that due to her actions, there have been a number of patients that did not receive their prescribed doses of pain medication.
Arndt is able to petition the board in two years to have her license reinstated. She would have to show that she was able to address her drug addiction successfully. The representative for Fairview Health Services declined to say how many patients might have been impacted by the theft.
Not an Isolated Incident
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Arndt is not the only one who is actively putting others at risk by stealing their necessary medication. According to a coalition of health and law enforcement officials, between 2005 and 2011, the reported thefts in Minnesota nursing homes and hospitals have more than doubled.
The report itself was released in 2012 and was the first to address this specific issue. The report highlighted that there were 250 separate cases of prescription medication reported missing or stolen at Minnesota health care facilities.
The bills currently in the Senate and the House would require that the Minnesota Nursing Board suspend those nurses who fail a state mental health monitoring program or a drug program unless these nurses are capable of proving that there is no imminent risk of harm to the public.
Unfortunately, this is a necessary step because Minnesota nurses continued to practice despite histories of failed participation in state drug monitoring, criminal convictions, patient harm and drug thefts.
Understanding the Why
It would be easy to suggest that Cali May Arndt is evil. That she is an exception to the rule and that she should be dealt with accordingly. The truth is that the only difference between Cali May Arndt and most other people struggling with opiate addiction is the fact that she has easy access to medication that feeds her habit.
This is not to say that what Arndt did is not reprehensible and that she needs to be removed from her position where she is capable of endangering others. However, there is a reason behind the actions that she took.
The opiates that Arndt took create artificial endorphins in the brain. These endorphins are endogenous opioid inhibitory neuropeptide, which sounds complicated enough. Without going into too much detail, these are what our brain releases when we are happy, when we see someone that we care about or if someone acknowledges that we did a great job. These produce the early stages of warm, good feelings.
Chances are that Arndt did start taking Percocet to deal with her back pain and quickly began to develop a tolerance for the drug. Part of the issue with opiates is the fact that they will eventually tell the brain to stop producing endorphins naturally. The body is becoming accustomed to having these endorphins artificially brought in, and the natural production comes to a halt.
Natural Endorphins are Gone
At that point, there are very few (if any at all) pleasurable sensations left. The positive outlook on the world is gone and nothing is going to replace that except for the drug in question. The smile of someone you care about, someone telling you that you did a great job, finding $10 on the street, none of this can replicate the artificial release of endorphins.
Now that the body has stopped producing these endorphins naturally, the person is going to feel depressed and sick when they are not actively using. After some time, it is no longer about getting the same ‘buzzed’ and happy feeling that once drew them into the drug. It has now become a way for them to become baseline. It is literally the only way that they can have some sort of positive experience in their life. At that point, the person starts to crave the drug more and more, and eventually crosses the boundary of habitual user to now being addicted.
The vicious cycle of opiate addiction is simple. You need more and more of the opiate in question in order to compensate for the lost endorphins. Withdrawal symptoms include several different debilitating effects, ranging from sleepless nights, restlessness, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, stress and more.
Punishment and Support should not be Separate
Even though her behavior is unacceptable, it is important to understand that her actions were not because she is a horrible human being that intended to do harm. These actions were driven by a need to feed her compulsion constantly. Even though it is important to use punishment, it is equally important to ensure that she gets the help that she needs to get better. In all the outrage surrounding the case, this is one aspect that many people are forgetting about.