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Nurse stole painkillers on more than 70 occasions from Minneapolis VA, charges say

The drugs have been targeted by police for their role in the ongoing opioid crisis.

On Friday, a Twin Cities nurse will answer to charges that he swindled tightly regulated drugs from a VA hospital.

Matthew Leininger worked at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, where prosecutors say he stole fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone – all drugs that have been targeted by authorities for their role in America's ongoing opioid crisis. 

According to criminal charges filed in Hennepin County this month, Leininger got the medications from one of the hospital's Pyxis systems – which are basically pill-dispensing vending machines used by the medical industry.

The machine requires nurses to log in using their fingerprints, track the medication they're withdrawing and which patient it's going to. Nurses also have to note how much of the medication is administered and whether any is left over. 

The charges say Leininger missed those last two steps.

It's not clear how the scheme – which lasted for a six-month period beginning in June 2016 – was detected, but investigators began interviewing Leininger about the thefts in December 2016, and he was subsequently fired from the hospital in March of this year.

Authorities used records from the Pyxis system to find that the drugs had been stolen on more than 70 occasions, a news release says

Leininger later told investigators he used the drugs "to try to help his mental health," and also said the thefts had started "due to a lack of accountability with how the unit ran."

He's charged with five counts of theft by swindle, and was due to make his first court appearance Friday afternoon. 

The opioid epidemic

Authorities across the U.S. have been cracking down on opioid-related crimes lately, especially when they involve fatal overdoses.

In Minnesota, multiple heroin dealers have been charged with murder in connection with the deaths of their clients (you can read about a few of those cases by clicking here).

On April 21 of this year, Minnesota received a federal grant of more than $5 million to fight the rising tide of opioid overdose deaths.

Coincidentally, that was the one-year anniversary of Prince's death, which was caused by a painkiller overdose.

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