Health executives may be in denial when it comes to drug diversion: survey

Nearly 85% of healthcare leaders and providers say drug diversion is a problem in U.S. health facilities, and it may be fueling the opioid epidemic, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

However, in the anonymous survey conducted by KRC Research for Becton, Dickinson and Co. (BD) of more than 650 hospital executives and providers—including nurses, pharmacists and anesthesiologists—only 20% believe it's a problem where they work.

The survey found half of the respondents reported observing suspicious activity in their hospitals that might be evidence of diversion.

"We could call this disconnect. We could call this 'Not in my backyard' effect. I think it's an opportunity and proof of point that it is underreported. It is underappreciated," Idal Beer, M.D., vice president of medical affairs and medication management solutions at BD, told FierceHealthcare.

Part of the problem is the issue of drug diversion is hard to track, and many hospitals don't always report it when an employee is caught diverting drugs, experts say

Katelyn Hipwell, Pharm.D., M.P.H., pharmacy clinical operations manager for the University of Virginia Health System, told FierceHealthcare the finding confirms what she, her pharmacy colleagues and myself have been facing for a while.

"Healthcare executives and providers recognize this is a problem but not at their institution. So with that, it's difficult to become resourced appropriately to do diversion management or any kind of management with controlled substances," Hipwell said. "In the pharmacy world, it's always been a priority but making sure people understand it should be a priority everywhere."

The findings are particularly relevant as they show an often "overlooked" problem in the midst of the ongoing opioid crisis, she said. 

"Healthcare providers are just as likely as the general population to become addicted or misuse controlled substances," Hipwell said. "But coupled with the fact healthcare providers are surrounded by controlled substances all the time."

RELATED: Nurse's drug diversion causes infection outbreak at Wisconsin hospital, study finds

Among other findings in the survey. 

  • Fifty-four percent of executives indicated they believe technological tools such as artificial intelligence and advanced analytics would help address the problem, and nearly 60% of executives want more accurate data to reduce false positives of potential diversion problems. More than half indicated they believe mandatory diversion training would also help address the problem.
  • Executives and providers indicated the stressful work environment in hospitals may be a contributing factor that can make healthcare providers vulnerable to substance abuse, with 78% indicating they have known a peer who seemed stressed "to the breaking point."