When hospital safeguards against drug theft aren't enough

Although hospitals work to tighten their security measures against drug theft, it can be hard to anticipate theft strategies, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

Last week, security guards at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee caught Ryan Epperson, a corrections officer at Hamilton County Jail, posing as a surgeon and stealing painkillers. His arrest followed an ongoing investigation into drug thefts at Erlanger, and two other hospitals in Chattanooga--CHI Memorial Hospital and Parkridge Medical Center.

The audacity of Epperson's strategy meant hospitals' security measures, such as regular pill counts, heavy surveillance and room restrictions weren't enough to prevent the thefts, said Tennessee Board of Pharmacy President Reggie Dillard.

"The hospitals may have had every security measure in place, but they may not have anticipated someone so brazen," Dillard told the Times-Free Press. "Once he developed the scenario that worked at one hospital, he probably found it would work at any hospital. Nothing is bulletproof."

Indeed, all three facilities have strict regulations regarding employee IDs and multilayer security protocols, but Epperson had done enough research to bypass such measures, indicating familiarity through personal experience or a contact in healthcare. For example, Epperson knew when Parkridge's radiology lab would be unoccupied and was able to park in Erlanger's physician lot and leave his jacket and burglary tools in a stairwell, according to police.

Increased security protocols might safeguard against a similar incident, but drug theft by real hospital employees is a major problem within the industry as well. A report last year found more than 100,000 medical professionals abuse or are addicted to prescription drugs, and the high-stress hospital environment often exacerbates the behavior.

State policies can also increase the risk of drug theft by employees. For example, in Virginia, employers often do not report drug abuse by nurses to the state, and this failure to report, while illegal, is hardly ever punished, FierceHealthcare previously reported.  

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