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A Whatcom nurse forged prescriptions for opiates. Here’s what the state requires now

Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction

More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.
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More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.

The state Department of Health has put the license of a Whatcom County registered nurse on probation after she forged nearly 50 prescriptions and tested positive for narcotics.

Karen Marie Benkarski reached an agreement with the state Nursing Commission, which placed her on probation for at least five years, the state agency announced this week.

Here are the details of the case, as laid out by the state agency in the agreement order signed by Benkarski:

She forged about 43 prescriptions for opiates from about Sept. 26, 2015, through about Dec. 26, 2017. She did so by using the name and identification numbers of a doctor at the Skagit Regional Clinics in Mount Vernon, where she worked as a nurse.

Around Jan. 30, 2017, to Dec. 22, 2017, Benkarski forged three prescriptions for zolpidem, a sedative that can treat insomnia. She used the same doctor’s information to do so.

From around Dec. 18, 2015, to about Oct. 2, 2017, she forged nine prescription information forms, using the same doctor’s information. She provided those forms to fraudulently claim she had been prescribed hydrocodone.

Benkarski failed to follow the substance abuse monitoring contract she had agreed to enter after admitting, in a written statement around Dec. 11, 2013, to testing positive for narcotics that she didn’t have valid prescriptions for.

As part of that contract, she agreed to undergo random testing. She tested positive for hydrocodone, a narcotic painkiller, numerous times from April 2015 through February 2017, according to the state agency.

The state placed a number of conditions on Benkarski while her license is on probation, including continuing with substance abuse monitoring and getting approval before accepting a job in the health care field. She also is barred from working as a nurse in a place where she has access to narcotics, prescription pads and electronic prescribing systems.

If she doesn’t comply with the state’s conditions, her license could be suspended.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.

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