July 11, 2009 -- It's a prescription for disaster. Serious questions surround healthcare workers addicted to the very drugs intended to help their patients.
Former surgical technician Kristen Diane Parker was charged last Thursday with three federal drug charges after she allegedly stole syringes filled with liquid pain killers to take the drug herself then filled the syringes with saline solution and put them back, according to authorities.
Parker, 26, is infected with hepatitis C, putting almost 6,000 patients at risk during surgeries at the Rose Medical Center near Denver. So far, 10 patients have tested positive for the virus.
She worked at the medical center, but was fired in April after Fentanyl was found in her system in a drug test. Her last employment was at the Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Pat Criscito, who underwent surgery at Rose Medical Center in October and November and whose immune system has been weakened by years of arthritis treatments, feared she was next. If she tested positive for hepatitis C, she said, it would have been a death sentence.
Her results came in last week: negative.
"[Parker] knew what she was doing and did it anyway," Criscito, 57, said. "There will be people, not me thank god, but there will be people who get a positive test result."
Authorities say this offers a stark reminder of the hidden danger inside hospitals and doctors' offices across this country.
For healthcare workers addicted to drugs like the strong painkiller Fentanyl, the fact that those drugs are stocked in their offices and hospitals makes it easy to abuse them.
David Rosenbloom, the president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said a doctor's proximity to drugs makes it easier to get hooked.
"They get them by stealing them from the hospitals or pharmacies where they work, writing prescriptions for themselves or phony patients," Rosenbloom said.
A new Showtime series, "Nurse Jackie," centers around an addicted nurse and brings the ugly side of this problem to the little screen. The program has drawn criticism from nursing groups for its depiction of the industry.
However, authorities say up to 12 percent of health professionals do in fact become dependent on prescription drugs at some point in their careers.
"I found a vein and used my training to give myself the medications," said Dr. Jason Giles, who started out 10 years ago in California as a high-achieving medical student wanting to become an anesthesiologist.
He said he began administering the drug Fentanyl to himself to ease the stress of becoming a new physician and giving him a temporary relief from the "anxiety and self-doubt" he felt. Giles said he fed his addiction by creating fictional patients and signing out drugs to them.
"I thought that having some training or knowledge, that I could get out of trouble if I got into it," he said. "The truth is, with that substance there just is no escape."
Giles was eventually caught.
And after a undergoing drug abuse treatment, he is now better. In fact, Giles is helping others like him who are drawn to the drugs right in front of them. He lectures to residents and doctors about addiction among medical professionals and runs a drug rehabilitation facility in Malibu, Calif.
"We're supposed to be where the health care comes from, right? We're supposed to be the ones who make it better. And I couldn't even take care of myself," Giles said.
Like Giles, however, doctors can get help.
"Every state has a formal program to provide treatment and supervision for physicians. And in fact these programs are a model for what everyone should have," Rosenbloom said.
And medical professionals say doctors have an especially high rate of success when it comes to staying clean.
"Five years after doctors go through these programs, more than three quarters of them are still practicing medicine and clean of their alcohol or drug addiction," Rosenbloom said.
Meanwhile, Parker faces 34 years in prison if convicted of the three federal drug charges: tampering with a consumer product, creating a counterfeit substance and obtaining a narcotic by deceit.
Parker could wind up with a life sentence in federal prison if prosecutors can prove to a jury that she caused patients serious bodily injury or death.
ABC News' Christine Brouwer contributed to this report.