CT: Westfield nurse sentenced to 20 months in federal prison for stealing morphine from dying patient to feed drug habit

During her first shift at a Westfield nursing home in 2018, Danielle Works skimmed morphine from a dying patient to feed her own drug habit.

According to a federal prosecutor, Works was found slumped over in a chair, barely coherent, during the second leg of a double shift at the Governor’s Center long-term care facility in Westfield.

It was not the first time — or even the second — she had stolen narcotics from patients to get high on the job, investigators said. Before being charged in federal court, she had been fired from multiple facilities for the same behavior. The prior facilities were not cited in court or the public record.

“I think it’s a sad truth that these issues get passed from facility to facility,” assistant U.S. attorney Christopher A. Looney told a judge during Works’ sentencing in federal court in Springfield on Wednesday. “It seems easier just to fire a person than to initiate a court proceeding.”
Works, 43, of Stafford Springs, Connecticut, was sentenced to 20 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Mark Mastroianni, who struggled to balance an appropriate penalty with the seeming inefficacy of prison to treat addiction.
“We all know that addicts will lie, cheat and steal to get their drugs. But now we’re adding to it: addicts will lie, cheat and steal, and hurt other people. Where do we draw the line?” Mastroianni said, adding that he believes incarceration has proven a “complete failure” to treat drug addiction.
Beyond her sentence, Works’ case shone a sliver of light on the complicated landscape of the opioid crisis: doctors previously prescribing highly addictive opioids fairly freely, then shutting patients off with little aftercare as regulations around prescribing narcotics and other drugs tightened up. This is coupled with alarming numbers of accidental drug overdoses.
Looney argued for prison time, around three years, telling Mastroianni that Works stole morphine from a patient “literally on her death bed.” Works diluted the supply of morphine with another liquid to conceal the theft within hours of the woman’s death.
“This conduct, preying on some of the most vulnerable members of our society, warrants a significant custodial sentence,” Looney wrote in a presentencing memo.
Works’ defense attorney, Darren Griffis, advocated for probation.
He said Works was on a positive path as a 26-year-old, relatively new bride looking forward to motherhood in 2004. She was in nursing school, the product of a family of nurses and medical professionals.
But then a serious car crash left her with crushed vertebrae in her neck and back, Griffis said. Extensive physical rehabilitation included heavy doses of opioids to alleviate her pain, which led to an addiction that stretched on for years, despite entering drug rehab first in 2008. When her physicians told her she would be unable to conceive a child, Works relapsed, her lawyer said.
All the while, she continued to work at various hospital and nursing facilities, Works herself said. She’d get caught stealing painkillers from one site, get fired, then be quickly rehired at another one.
“You just leave one job and go to another … because they’re busy and they’re short-staffed and they don’t check,” Works told Mastroianni. “I could have gotten hired at another one.”
“Addiction is very prevalent in the medical community,” Works said. “I learned how to do this from my co-workers who were already doing it.”
Works, who ended up giving birth to a baby girl a year ago, said she was ashamed she nearly sabotaged her professional dream and put her patients in harm’s way.
“All I ever wanted to do since I was a child was be a mom and a nurse. I’m an addict and will always be an addict,” Works said during a tearful address to Mastroianni. “This battle is day by day. Sometimes hour by hour. And I don’t think jail will change that for me.”
Works is still a license practical nurse in Connecticut, under a consent agreement that requires ongoing drug testing and counseling. She has been clean for three years, her attorney said.
Mastroianni said he was going to urge Works to enroll in a new drug-centered treatment program at the federal women’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

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