Worsening drug theft by healthcare workers puts patients at risk

Healthcare providers are under increased pressure to take serious action against employee drug theft, according to the Deseret News, especially after the revelation that it may have led to nearly 5,000 patients in a Utah hospital being exposed to hepatitis C.

A nurse at an Ogden rehabilitation center has confessed to stealing numerous drugs, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, from his employer over a two-year period, accounting for the thefts by recording them as given to patients. In the same state, a Mountain West Medical Center nurse regularly stole liquid opioids and another nurse was caught with drug paraphernalia in her locker after her employer noticed she was pulling narcotics with much more frequency than her co-workers.

Nor is the problem restricted to Utah, Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, told the publication. The drug abuse problem is nationwide, she said, and "hospital personnel, hospital employees aren't any different." Last year a federal judge in New Hampshire sentenced hospital technician David Kwiatowski, to 39 years in prison after he infected at least 46 patients with hepatitis after injecting himself with patients' pain medicine and refilling the syringes with saline. 

John Eddington, an agent with Salt Lake City's Drug Enforcement Administration office, said the problem of drug theft, or diversion, by healthcare workers has worsened in recent years. Part of what makes the problem particularly bad for these workers is the sheer number of ways they can accomplish the thefts, from pharmacists forging prescriptions to nurses covertly pocketing pills to providers tampering with vials or syringes and potentially exposing their patients to blood-borne diseases. 

Far too often, according to the article, these problems persist due to providers dealing with them internally and failing to report the theft to law enforcement, due in large part to privacy concerns. In states such as Virginia, employers often fail to report such thefts, and laws imposing fines for failure to report are essentially unenforceable, FierceHealthcare previously reported.  

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