Prescription Drug Diversion an Issue at VA Hospitals – Mar 2017 – Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor
I’ve long believed that the quantities of illicit Rx opioids available on the black market cannot be accounted for by pills stolen from “grandma’s medicine cabinet”. I think opioids are/were being diverted at a much higher level and involve huge quantities. By now, however, pills have become much too expensive in comparison to cheap heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl additives.
Employees involved in manufacturing, distribution, and pharmacy stocking aren’t as carefully monitored as individual pain patients, and diversion of mass quantities is so profitable that some of the staff involved in the supply chain are undoubtedly corruptible.
That’s where the real money is, not from a few pills stolen out of medicine cabinets. This article supports my viewpoint by showing how lax the oversight is over the huge drug stocks held by the VA system.
Federal authorities are aiming investigative efforts at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers to curb an increase in drug diversion acts committed in some VA hospitals, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Data from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review showed a significant jump in opioid theft, missing prescriptions, and unauthorized drug use by VA doctors, nurses, and pharmacy staff over the past 8 years.
While pain patients are forced to account for every single pill and have their bodies physically monitored by drug tests, people with access to the vast stores of the VA avoided monitoring for 8 years!
On February 27, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to address the findings from the report.
Reported incidents of missing or stolen prescription medications at federal hospitals increased drastically from 272 in 2009 to 2457 in 2016 – most of the crimes were committed by employees diverting controlled substances for personal use or street sales, according to the article.
This seems a criminal oversight. For all these years, no one checked this obvious source of diversion while restricting individual patients.
“I am concerned that VA’s controlled substance oversight program is not working and that staff who fail to follow proper procedures are not being held accountable for violations,” Chairman Rep. Jack Bergman stated in his opening remarks at the hearing.
The GAO review identified weaknesses in several VA facilities’ controlled substance inspection programs.
Problems pointed to gaps in monthly inspections of drug stocks and lax hospital oversight in tracking drug supplier, as well as failure to conduct pre-employment drug testing.
The data has prompted deeper scrutiny of drug crimes committed at VA hospitals, and the inspector general’s office acknowledges roughly 100 currently-open criminal probes involving theft or loss of VA narcotics.
It’s outrageous that this could happen while we’re all struggling to sort out the “overdose crisis”. Here is a blatant leak in the supply chain that hasn’t been addressed for 8 years. How can this be justified?
According to AP, the report discovered that most missed inspections occurred at the Washington DC- area hospitals, where monthly checks were missed more than 40% of the time in critical care patient areas. Other problems were found in VA hospitals nationwide, in which multiple incidents occurred involving lost or unaccounted for controlled substances.
At the same time, VA patients are so carefully monitored that if they cannot account for a single opioid pill, they are immediately punished.
It looks like all the groups and institutions insisting on opioid restrictions should clean up their own house before going after people in pain.
VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Ensure Medical Facility Controlled Substance Inspection Programs Meet Agency Requirements. GAO-17-242: Feb 15, 2017
PDF available at https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/682804.pdf
Chairman Bergman Opening Statement [news release]. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ website. https://veterans.house.gov/news/press-releases/chairman-bergman-opening-statement. Accessed Feb. 28, 2017.
Below are several more article on this issue:
- Alleged Inappropriate Opioid Prescribing Practices … – VA.gov : Sept 29, 2016
- Opioids, other drugs vanish from VA hospitals – Portland Press Herald : Feb 20, 2017
- Drug Diversion on the Rise at VA Medical Centers | Drug Topics : Feb 21, 2017
- VA Pledges More Inspections, Drug Tests to Stem Opioid Theft : Feb 27, 2017
- VA data show low rate of discipline for opioid theft, drug use by VA : Feb 27, 2017