UPDATE: A man who admits he dressed up as a doctor to steal drugs from local hospitals will not have to spend any more time behind bars.

Last year, surveillance cameras at Erlanger and Parkridge Hospitals helped police arrest Ryan Epperson, 27, who took a plea deal on Wednesday morning.

Epperson originally faced dozens of charges and up to 8 years in prison. But tonight, he has a chance to get his life back on track.

Because he pleaded guilty, Epperson will be able to recover from his drug problem outside of prison walls.

"You could stack people like him up like firewood in prison, but it doesn't do society any good," said Epperson's attorney, Bill Speek. "He's somebody, clearly, that had a drug issue."

Last year, Epperson broke into Erlanger and Parkridge hospitals. Posing as a doctor and dressed in scrubs, he stole powerful pain medications and other narcotics from the surgery suites.

Epperson admitted he stole the drugs and told police he'd been dealing with a long-time addiction problem.

"If we can find a way of extracting people that are out there committing violent crimes from people that are committing offenses related to intoxication or addiction, we have a chance of dealing with the actual cause of the problem," Speek explained.

Judge Don Poole took Epperson's drug addiction into consideration.

Instead of being sent to prison, Epperson is headed to the county's Drug Court, where he'll have to complete a rigorous recovery-based program.

"If you work with those people, if you try to help yourself, they can try to help you," Poole told Epperson. "If you don't, then that sentence is going to be served."

The stakes are high for Epperson to stay clean. If he does not follow the rules of the Drug Court program, then he'll have to serve his six-year prison sentence.

"He's got a long road ahead of him," Speek said. "But he's got an opportunity, if he capitalizes on it."

PREVIOUS STORY:  Ryan Epperson again waived his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning after being arrested a second time in August for stealing drugs from local hospitals.

His case now goes before a grand jury, meaning we'll have to wait to hear details of his scheme and testimony against him.

Epperson faces more than 50 counts of burglary, vandalism, theft and trespassing following multiple incidents in May and August in which he snuck into local hospitals and stole narcotics. Police say he admitted to the crime and even let them search his property where they discovered the stolen drugs.

Epperson is a former corrections officer with Hamilton County. He's being housed at the Silverdale Corrections Facility. He's scheduled to be back in criminal court in October.

PREVIOUS (8/25): A judge delayed the preliminary hearing for Ryan Epperson Wednesday morning, pushing the date to September 8.

A Criminal Court judge on Tuesday tripled the bond for the man accused of sneaking through local hospitals to steal drugs.
Ryan Epperson faces 42 new counts of criminal charges after police arrested him again last week.
Epperson’s attorney says his client needs rehab, not jail.
“Our position on the case is the exact same as it was before. We're dealing with somebody who has a severe addiction. I don't really see the value of having another drug addict in jail. He needs treatment,” said Bill Speek.
Epperson will be in general sessions court Tuesday morning for his preliminary hearing on the new charges. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing earlier this summer after his first arrest.

PREVIOUS STORY: Former Hamilton County corrections officer Ryan Epperson was arrested in connection with two separate incidents that occurred at Erlanger East on Sunday and the downtown Erlanger Tuesday.

This marks the second time Epperson has been arrested in connection with stealing drugs from area hospitals. The previous incident took place in May of 2015.

Chattanooga Police Department and the U.S. Marshal Service arrested Epperson Wednesday, and recovered a large amount of the stolen drugs.

Erlanger says their heightened security measures led the arrest of the suspect. In Epperson's latest attempts to steal medications, the suspect was not dressed in scrubs or posing as a physician. 
Epperson has been charged with burglary, vandalism and criminal trespass.

PREVIOUS STORY: In a Tuesday court proceeding Ryan Epperson, waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and his case was bound over to the grand jury.

Epperson, a former Hamilton County corrections officer, has been charged with taking narcotics from crash carts in four local hospitals. 

PREVIOUS STORY: Impersonating a surgeon, police say Ryan Epperson entered a door at Erlanger marked "Secure Personnel Only" to steal narcotics. Court records show he entered the radiology procedure lab at Parkridge to swipe drugs.

Memorial staff confirms narcotics were taken from four crash carts left in supervised areas.

Erlanger refused to answer Channel 3's  questions about security. Instead they released a written statement, confirming ID badges are supposed to be visible at all times, and encouraging patients and family members to look for them. 

Parkridge acknowledged the security breech, with a written statement saying in part, "We have taken immediate steps to evaluate the security of our drug dispensing processes and procedures as well as access to our restricted areas," said Patty Montgomery, Director of Marketing.

Memorial Hospital told Channel 3 over the phone that staff members count medication on every shift, and that is how they realized drugs were missing. Memorial has decided to remove some drugs from crash carts.

Channel 3 discovered some of the drugs Epperson is accused of stealing, Demerol, Fentanyl and Morphine are potent narcotics. Some of the drugs were in liquid form and loaded in syringes.

“So if they can snort it or put in their vein, they get almost an immediate effect ,” said Dr. Thomas Klinner.

Dr. Klinner works as a physician; he says narcotics are highly addictive.

“A third of Americans have a predisposition,” said Klinner.

Epperson told investigators he stole the drugs because he has a drug addiction.

Klinner says it's a good reminder for all medical personnel to have a strict security plan.

“Even in my office we have things double locked and it takes two keys to get in,” said Klinner.

Epperson is suspended with pay, from his job at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

He's due in court next week.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Hamilton County Sheriff's office has suspended Ryan Epperson with pay, pending the outcome of his court hearing June 2.

Hamilton County Sheriff Hammond said “That is our agency's policy; to give the employee his day in court first where they can be found innocent or guilty. If this employee is found guilty of any of his charges,” said Hammond, “he will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Chief Allen Branum said “We just don't tolerate this kind of behavior by any of our employees who have betrayed the public's trust in them.”

Hamilton County Sheriff's correction officer Epperson faces numerous charges after police say he reportedly posed as a surgeon doctor at local hospitals to steal drugs.

Epperson, 26, who has worked as a jailer since 2009, told investigators that he had an addiction problem, according to an affidavit of complaint. 

He told investigators he was concerned about keeping his job. He was reportedly caught at Erlanger on Wednesday by a Walden Security guard, and turned over all drugs taken from CHI Memorial Hospital, Erlanger Hospital and Parkridge Medical Center.

Investigators searched his apartment in Red Bank as well as his vehicle after he gave them permission. 

They found a large bag of drugs in a Ford Fusion. A large quantity of drugs were found at his home including demerol, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, methasone and promethazine.

Epperson wore hospital scrubs in order to gain access to restricted areas where drugs were kept, according to the report.

A spokesperson for Memorial Hospital tells Channel 3 hospital that staff recently filed a police report when they discovered a small amount of narcotic medication was discovered missing from four crash carts at the hospital.

Lisa McCluskey, Vice President of Marketing and Communication, says the crash carts were kept in supervised areas, but did not require a hospital badge or key card to gain access. Since the medication went missing, the hospital has changed its policy, taking those medications off crash carts.

McCluskey was unaware of Epperson's arrest until Channel 3 reached out for comment. She couldn't confirm if surveillance video was handed over to authorities, but says there is surveillance in all areas of the hospital. She added that the hospital expects to hear from police after court records show Epperson admitted to taking medication from the hospital.

“We will be following this case closely,” said McCluskey.

McCluskey added that hospital staff count medication on every shift and wear color coded scrubs to identify their role in the hospital.

Scrubs typically have a logo and department name on them.

In some cases, McCluskey says physicians may be in scrubs that do not include a logo but all staff members are required to wear badges that identify them.

Patty Montgomery, the Director of Marketing for Parkridge Health System said in an email to Channel 3: "After discovering damage to our medication dispensing system, we immediately notified law enforcement officials and contacted the area hospitals to make them aware of the situation. Parkridge Medical Center continues to work closely with local law enforcement in this investigation. We have taken immediate steps to evaluate the security of our drug dispensing processes and procedures, as well as access to our restricted areas."

Pat Charles, the Director of Corporate Communications for Erlanger Health System tells Channel 3 that "Because this is an ongoing criminal and internal investigation, we are limited in what we can say or release at this point. However, we will use this incident as an opportunity to remind our staff that ID badges must be visible at all times and must be worn at all times by vendors, all staff, physicians, volunteers and medical students while on campus."

Epperson, who remains in custody at Silverdale on a $94,000 bond, did not respond to a text message seeking comment this morning. 

Epperson ran for public office just last year in Hamilton County's race for register of deeds.

He was previously suspended at the sheriff's office for violating department policy when he gained access to passwords in 2011 to help a supervisor do coursework.

Sources at the sheriff's office confirm he is now suspended pending the outcome of the latest charges per department policy.

Eppseron faces six counts of drugs for resale, two theft of property charges, two counts of vandalism, impersonation of a licensed professional as well as criminal trespassing.

Sources at the sheriff's office confirm he is suspended from work with charges pending.

His next court date is set for June 2 before Hamilton County General Sessions Court Christine Sell.