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Former nurse facing federal drug charges narrowly avoids prison

A woman in Utah whose legal case attracted national attention because of its relationship to America's drug crisis barely avoided jail after recently violating the terms of her bail.

The former nurse is accused of stealing powerful painkillers away from patients under her care in order to feed her own addiction. At times, she even used the same needles she used on herself on patients. In the process, she infected at least seven patients in the hospital with an uncommon variety of hepatitis C that she carries. Officials believe she also exposed more than 7,000 patients to the disease between 2012 and 2014.

The woman has already given up her nursing license as she waits for trial on federal drug charges, including fraudulently obtaining controlled substances and tampering with consumer products. This case is the first of its kind in the state. Typically, cases like this wouldn't have been handled in criminal court, but prosecutors throughout the nation are growing increasingly aggressive about prescription drug crimes.

If she's convicted, the woman is facing the potential of decades in federal prison. Each tampering charge alone -- of which there are eight -- can carry a 20-year term of punishment.

Instead of lying low, the woman had another brush with the law when she was charged with the online harassment of her stepdaughter and then picked up for drunk driving a few days later. Even being arrested is a violation of the terms of her pre-trial release and has the potential to send her back to jail for the duration of her trial.

The judge in this case, however, showed leniency -- of a sort. Citing the fact that she has a disabled child in her care, he didn't jail her. He did increase the restrictions she must live under until her trial is over. They include twice-daily mandatory testing to prove that she is abstaining from all alcohol.

Cases like this illustrate important things people need to remember. First, federal prosecutors are no longer treating people who abuse prescription drugs as addicts -- they are being heavily prosecuted for crimes related to their addiction.

Second, it's imperative to obey the terms of your bail, if you get it. Anything less is likely to result in consequences you want to avoid.

If your addiction has led to federal drug charges, an experienced defense attorney can protect your rights and offer guidance.

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