Judge Gordon Kerr QC, at Belfast Crown Court, told 43-year-old Annette McCartney there was "nothing to be gained" in sending her to prison and that as a result of her thefts, she had lost her career and was unlikely to work as a nurse again.
McCartney, from Mount Eagles Avenue in Dunmurry, had pleaded guilty to stealing a quantity of Oramorph, or liquid morphine, and possessing the class A drug on dates between 27 May and 6 August 2010.
Prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer said staff on ward six south at Belfast City Hospital first became aware of a potential problem on 29 May when a patient said his dose of Oramorph tasted different from the previous dose.
Two bottles were tested and the results showed they were 67% and 44% pure respectively, proving they had been watered down.
The lawyer told the court that following a management meeting, further samples were taken on two separate dates in June and again, both were found to be less pure, adding that at the end of July, two bottles were missing for a time and while one turned up half full, the other never did.
Events came to a head on 4 August when a nurse on the ward went into the office and saw former staff nurse McCartney "swirling" a glass of orange juice looking "startled" and when the CCTV was checked, they uncovered that McCartney had taken the drug from the trolley three times that day.
Mr Steer told the court it was difficult to quantify exactly how much McCartney had stolen but it was estimated to be around two bottles, adding that although it had little street value, the nurse had taken it herself and not sold it on.
"No-one came to any harm and no discomfort was caused to any patient by her actions," said the lawyer who also told the judge the main aggravating factor in the case was the "breach of trust by this lady".