FORT PIERCE — A registered nurse whose license was suspended in August faces a federal charge of tampering with drugs while working at an outpatient surgery center in Jensen Beach, state and federal records show.
In a federal indictment issued last week, Catherine Shannon Dunton, 54, of Port St. Lucie, was accused of switching vials of fentanyl for saline which were “intended to be dispensed to patients for the purpose of pain relief during medical procedures.”
The incidents occurred at The Surgery Center at Jensen Beach in the 3900 block of Northwest Goldenrod Road north of Treasure Coast Square mall.
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Dunton, according to the indictment, removed fentanyl from the vials then “replaced the fentanyl with saline and returned the adulterated vials to be used in medical procedures.”
During an appearance Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Shaniek M. Maynard at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Dunton was charged with one count of tampering with a consumer product. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Records show she was released from federal custody after posting $15,000, or 10% of a $150,000 bond ordered by Maynard.
Reached Friday, Dunton’s lawyer, Michael Ohle, of Fort Pierce, declined to comment.
An employee at The Surgery Center at Jensen Beach referred inquiries to corporate officials in Dallas, who on Friday did not respond to requests for comment.
According to an investigation conducted in August by the Florida Department of Health, during a two-month period beginning in February at The Surgery Center of Jensen Beach, Dunton took vials of pain relievers meant for patients and swapped them with saline.
Dunton, hired at the center in 2021, reported switching the fentanyl for saline vials “two to three days a week.”
“Ms. Dunton admitted that she knew there were occasions where the patients would only receive the saline,” a state emergency restriction order stated.
State records show Dunton had a history of substance abuse troubles, dating to 2008, when she worked at HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce.
In May 2022, Dunton reported to the Intervention Project for Nurses, an impaired practitioner program, she had completed an alcohol and drug treatment program. She was evaluated by Dr. Lawrence Wilson, who specializes in addiction medicine and psychiatry, records show.
During her evaluation, Dunton acknowledged that while working at Lawnwood, she diverted powerful painkillers including Demerol, morphine, fentanyl and Percocet “for her personal use,” according to a state emergency order.
Her nursing license was temporarily suspended in 2012 after an employer-requested drug screen returned positive for fentanyl.
She told Wilson that in March 2021 she started to occasionally consume alcohol and that she experienced blackouts. She took a toxicology test in May and came back positive for fentanyl, the records show.
Wilson diagnosed Dunton with severe opioid use disorder and an alcohol addiction and concluded she was “not able to practice nursing with reasonable skill and safety to patients.”
State health officials filed a petition to impose various penalties against Dunton based on the findings, including revoking or suspending her license.
Her admitted substance abuse-related behavior, an emergency restriction order concluded, presented “an immediate, serious danger to the health, welfare and safety of the public.”