New Mexico nurse accused of pocketing drugs intended for patients

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LAS VEGAS, N.M. — A New Mexico nurse anesthetist is accused of diverting dangerous drugs like fentanyl and propofol from patients, for his own use.

4 Investigates recently uncovered the allegations involving Alta Vista Regional Hospital and the nurse, Caleb Zarzour. At first, he denied them and refused to sign a settlement.

Zarzour’s attorney called the case “very weak” and told KOB 4 he felt there was little evidence of diversion.

However, in the 4 Investigates report, we uncovered deep concern from former colleagues about Zarzour’s handling of fentanyl and propofol which was intended for patients to control pain during and after surgeries at the hospital in Las Vegas.

The state’s investigators, and the hospital itself, found Zarzour went to extreme lengths to avoid drug tests after doctors, nurses, and pharmacists raised red flags.

The New Mexico Board of Nursing’s initial offer contained some stiff penalties, but a new settlement is a bit more gentle.

The initial offer includes 28 days of rehab, five years of probation, monthly reports from a supervisor, and random drug testing three times a month to start – then twice a month.

The settlement includes two years of probation, quarterly reports from a supervisor, and the same random drug testing. As a note, the Board of Nursing described the settlement to KOB 4, but we have not seen a copy of it.

The discipline will be attached to his license, wherever he works in the future.

Alta Vista Regional Hospital will also face some hurdles. 4 Investigates uncovered an agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration to tighten practices around drugs like fentanyl and propofol, including allowing unannounced DEA inspections. That agreement is in effect until October 2024.

The hospital is also getting sued by the state for unfair trade practices – serious accusations over aggressive billing and advertising for services the hospital didn’t have the staff to provide. That’s scheduled for trial next year.