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CEDAR RAPIDS — A federal judge Friday sentenced a former Cedar Rapids registered nurse — who stole fentanyl from a surgery clinic where she worked for her own use and then covered up the theft by refilling the vials with saline — to five years probation.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams went below the advisory sentencing guidelines of 21 to 27 months in prison for Sabrina Thalblum, 52, largely based on the opioid addiction that led to her theft and deception.
He said other factors favored a lesser sentence, including that she sought treatment after being arrested and hasn’t reoffended or relapsed.
She also cooperated with law enforcement during the investigation and had a severe history of substance abuse since she was a youth and has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Williams said Thalblum was guilty of a serious offense because, as a nurse, she was in a position of trust to handle controlled substances.
Although there was potential risk to patients by substituting pain medication, there was no evidence that any patient was injured or that a patient went without the medication they needed because of her crime, Williams said.
The judge ordered Thalblum to serve six months of her probation on home confinement. She will be monitored and must remain in the home, except to go to work, school, treatment, religious activities and court.
Williams also ordered her to pay a $10,000 fine.
Thalblum, pleaded last year to one count of acquiring and attempting to acquire a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception and subterfuge, and one count of adulteration and misbranding with intent to defraud and mislead.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Vavricek asked the court for a sentence of prison time within the advisory range based on the seriousness of the offense.
Thalblum, he said, was withdrawing fentanyl from vials with a fine gauge needle and then concealing her crime by refilling them with saline and reattaching the caps.
She continued this fraud for over a year and caused serious risk to patients who needed the prescribed medication and there also was risk of contamination, he noted.
Al Willett, Thalblum’s attorney, asked the court for probation because of his client’s addiction and mental health history that led to this crime.
She has been sober since August 2019, has no criminal history and has received treatment and hasn’t relapsed, he said.
Thalblum, during the hearing, teared up and apologized to her husband, Rabbi Todd Thalblum of Temple Judah, and her family, as well as the community and her former co-workers at First Choice Surgery Center — Fox Eye.
She admitted to being a “drug addict” and said she works every day to maintain her sobriety. She has “deep shame and regret” for her actions, she said.
Thalblum told the judge her opioid addiction started because she was prescribed the drug to deal with fibromyalgia and back pain.
At first, she said, she stopped taking the drug because she was afraid of addiction but eventually started them again because they helped with her pain.
Thalblum admitted to withdrawing the fentanyl while working at the clinic, where she was the only nurse who had control over the narcotics.
Thalblum said she had “disgust” for herself and knew she would eventually get caught — which she now knows was the “best day of my life.”
Thalblum worked at the surgery center from October 2017 to August 2019, according to court documents.
She was issued a nursing license by the Iowa Board of Nursing in 2013. The conviction requires her to forfeit her nursing license, but it had expired in October 2019.
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