DENVER – A surgery technician who jumped from hospital to hospital around the West after getting hooked on fentanyl while serving as a medic in Afghanistan was sentenced to 6 ½ years in federal prison on Monday for stealing a syringe with the powerful painkiller from an operating room in suburban Denver.
Rocky Allen pleaded guilty in July to taking the syringe and leaving behind one with saline to be used on an elderly woman about to undergo surgery at Swedish Medical Center in January. The syringe wasn't used on the patient, who had already gotten a dosage of fentanyl before Allen entered the room. But the discovery of the missing drug raised fears that patients who underwent surgery at the hospital while Allen, who is HIV positive, worked there may have contracted the disease through potentially dirty needles he may have left behind.
To date, about 2,400 patients were tested, but no transmission of HIV has been found.
Allen, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving a Navy medic at a hospital in Kandahar, read from a letter to U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore, apologizing for the suffering he has caused and thanking the hospital for reporting his theft to authorities, leading him to get help.
"I believed this saved my life," he said.
Allen was eligible to receive up to 14 years in prison, but federal prosecutors had asked for 10 years, partly because of his guilty plea. Allen's public defender, Timothy O'Hara, had asked for 2 ½ years, noting that other addicts with longer criminal histories had been treated more leniently than that around the country. He also said there was only one other case where Allen was accused of leaving behind a needle for patient use— at Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego, California, where he worked for 20 days in 2013.
Moore said Allen's punishment had to account for the fear of hundreds of patients confronted with the possibility of contracting HIV as well as for a pattern of concealing his previous firings amid allegations of drug thefts once back in the United States after being shown leniency for stealing drugs at the Kandahar hospital. He also noted that Swedish had to spend $800,000 to pay for patients to be tested because of Allen's theft.
"Your conduct shows me disdain for others," he said.