All things considered, Ashton Daigle can consider himself a very lucky man. On March 5, the former surgery nurse was sentenced to 54 months in federal prison for "tampering with a consumer product" -- a nice way of saying that he stole the painkiller fentanyl from Boulder Community Hospital and left contaminated needles filled with saline or tap water for patients about to go under the knife.
Four and a half years is a substantial chunk out of anyone's life. But it's not thirty years, which is the stiff sentence Kristen Parker received a week earlier in the same courthouse, for doing the same thing, over just about the same period of months.
The main difference in the two cases is that Parker has hepatitis C from years of shared-needle drug use -- and infected upwards of two dozen Rose Medical Center patients with the virus.
Daigle has been tested repeatedly for HIV and hepatitis during the months leading up to his sentencing and has been declared negative for both diseases. In other words, the only pain he inflicted -- "only" seems a mite inadequate, given the months of uncertainty and terror his victims faced -- came from depriving surgery patients of their pain medication at a time when they needed it the most. Parker's heedless quest for dope, on the other hand, left Rose patients facing a lifetime of health issues and debilitating treatment options, as discussed in my feature "Going Viral."
Boulder Community Hospital claims to have fixed a glaring hole in its drug security procedures since Daigle's 2008 drug thefts. And Judge Marcia Krieger apparently took into account Daigle's willingness to cooperate with the investigation, in contrast to Parker's evasions about how often she stole needles and whether she knew she had hep C when she left contaminated syringes in the operating room. When you add it all up, it's the difference between two dope fiends -- one just a little further down the road, a bit more reckless and indifferent to human suffering than the other, or at least more capable of causing that suffering.
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A razor-thin distinction, maybe. But one that's worth about 25 years.