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Nurse turned addict given probation after getting clean

There’s no shortage of doctors and nurses implicated in the pain medication epidemic, but Leyla Samadi is different.

Unlike the medical professionals who illegally distributed drugs to others, often out of greed, Samadi was an addict herself, often injecting Demerol and Hydromorphone while on the job at a local hospital.

A year later, the former registered nurse and opiate addict is sober. She’s also being spared prison.

“I’m really sorry,” Samadi told a federal judge Wednesday. “I’m so grateful to actually have the opportunity to get some treatment.”

The federal judge who sentenced Samadi, now 54, could have given her up to four years in prison and, at times Wednesday, seemed inclined to do exactly that.

But in the end, it was Samadi’s addiction and, perhaps even more important, her recent recovery, that prompted U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford to give her five years probation instead.

Samadi likes to compare her arrest and conviction to an intervention, and on Wednesday, thanked the government for getting her straight.

“Leyla has taken back control of her life,” said Leslie Scott, an assistant federal public defender. “Even she has trouble reconciling who she is today and who she was then.”

To hear her lawyer talk, Samadi is the other face of the pain medication crisis.

Yes, she stole drugs from the labor and delivery unit at Sisters Hospital where she worked, but it was always to feed her own addiction, not those of others.

The thefts also were part of what Samadi acknowledges is a 20-year opiate addiction dating back to the birth of her oldest daughter. During that time, she underwent treatment twice, only to relapse each time.

Even after getting clean again, she soon found herself working at Sisters, this time injecting the Demerol and Hydromorphone she stole in late 2014 and early 2015.

She would cover her tracks by filling the used drug vials with saline.

“As for the crime, I take full responsibility for that,” Samadi told Wolford.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George C. Burgasser disputed any suggestion that Samadi’s crime was without victims, pointing to the women in the labor unit who needed medication but instead may have received saline.

“To have a patient in a hospital who has pain and can’t get medication for that pain is horrendous,” Wolford told Samadi.

Burgasser said the drugs Samadi stole came from a hospital machine that automatically dispensed liquid pain medications. He said the nurse would use her user name and fingerprint scan, identify the narcotic and patient it was supposed to go to, but then inject herself instead.

“There were, in fact, victims in this case,” he said.

Samadi, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to obtaining controlled substances by fraud, is currently living in Virginia and undergoing treatment for what her lawyer called a lifetime of substance abuse.

In court papers, Scott details what she believes led to her client’s dependence on drugs, most notably a childhood marked by emotional, physical and sexual abuse. On Wednesday, her mother, brother and daughter were in the courtroom.

“She’s been sober for over one year now,” Scott told the judge. “She is a completely different person."

Samadi talked Wednesday about everything she has lost, including an ex-husband and mother-in-law she regarded as a best friend. At one point she paused, looked down and struggled to express herself.

“My addiction had destroyed all of that,” she finally told Wolford

The Catholic Health System says Samadi was hired to work on a per diem basis through an outside staffing agency and was not a hospital employee.

The charges against Samadi are the result of an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, state Department of Health, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and the state Office of the Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.