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A Billings nurse used different names and faked personal details to obtain narcotics from dozens of medical professionals in six Montana cities, investigators allege.

Amanda Poepping, 42, appeared in Yellowstone County Justice Court on Thursday on one felony charge of fraudulently obtaining dangerous drugs.

Poepping said she was placed on administrative leave at Billings Clinic in November 2014. Her current employment status was not immediately clear. 

Poepping is accused of filling 157 prescriptions for 6,742 units of medication written by 57 different medical professionals from about January 2012 to November 2014. It was not made clear why charges were filed Thursday, almost three years after the offenses are alleged to have occurred.

The ongoing investigation, headed by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, shows that Poepping obtained and filled prescriptions for narcotic cough syrup, clonazepam, diazepam, hydrocodone, lorazepam, oxydocone and Lyrica.

Poepping is a registered nurse, certified in low-risk, neo-natal care.

When investigators questioned Poepping at her Billings home in December 2014, they told her they knew that earlier that year she had used a false birth date while seeking narcotic pain medications at a Helena hospital.

Poepping denied it was her, saying someone else was using her name. She said her purse was stolen while camping in Helena. Investigators then told her she’d been identified in a photo lineup. She replied that it was someone who looked like her.

After saying she’d need to consult an attorney before agreeing to a recorded interview, Poepping told the investigators that it was not the case that she didn’t want to talk to them.

“She was glad the officers were there to get this resolved,” charging documents say.

Poepping told investigators she was a registered nurse and had a history of migraine headaches. She’d been prescribed hydrocodone for the headaches in the past but realized that she had become addicted, and her doctor was weaning her off the narcotics. Dr. Lori Forseth, of Laurel, is her primary doctor, according to charging documents.

Poepping showed investigators a letter about her being placed on administrative leave from Billings Clinic. She said that on Nov. 19, 2014, she had taken hydrocodone at work to treat a migraine and her supervisor had commented about her eyes looking strange. Poepping was placed on leave shortly thereafter. Billings Clinic lists her dates of employment as from July, 2000 to May, 2015.

Poepping told investigators she had been married for 14 years and occasionally used her maiden name to obtain narcotic pain medications.

An ongoing problem

The Billings Gazette reported in 2010 that almost one-third of nurses disciplined by the state of Montana were in trouble for stealing drugs from their employers. The review covered the previous five years.

Instead of notifying law enforcement, the state Board of Nursing funneled most of those nurses into an addiction program and placed their licenses on probation.

A handful were prosecuted criminally for diversion, but only because police discovered their crimes before their bosses did.

The state Department of Labor and Industry, which oversees the Board of Nursing, said that focusing on rehabilitation prevented impaired nurses from going undetected and potentially harming patients. But critics, including some in law enforcement, argued that nurses received special treatment that is not afforded people in other professions who abuse narcotics.

In 2011, a Billings nurse, Kara Janel Lemm, was given a deferred sentence for writing herself fraudulent prescriptions for pain medications to which she was addicted. She apologized and said her addiction was complicated by her medical conditions.

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Public safety reporter for the Billings Gazette.