Intermountain Healthcare to pay $1M to settle drug diversion case

Hydrocodone opioid pills
A medical assistant's alleged diversion of drugs proved costly to Intermountain Healthcare. (Getty/smartstock)

Intermountain Healthcare will pay $1 million to the federal government to resolve allegations that lax controls allowed a former medical assistant at one of its clinics to divert controlled substances, including opioids, for personal use.

It is believed to be the largest settlement of its kind in Utah involving allegations of drug diversion, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the district of Utah.

An investigation by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration found that a former medical assistant of a doctor at a clinic and pharmacy in the Ogden area of Utah used the physician’s DEA registration number to issue prescriptions to herself and two family members, according to law enforcement officials.

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The prescriptions included oxycodone, diazepam, phentermine and hydrocodone.

The settlement relates to civil claims arising from the government’s contention that from September 2007 through March 2015, a diversion of controlled substances occurred at the clinic under DEA registration numbers for a physician and pharmacy. 

The government said that 244 prescriptions for oxycodone and another 151 prescriptions for other controlled substances, totaling tens of thousands of pills, were issued without a legitimate medical purpose and were filled by the pharmacy and picked up by the former medical assistant.

The settlement is not an admission of liability by Intermountain Healthcare. In addition to the monetary settlement, Intermountain implemented a comprehensive corrective action plan to prevent, identify and address future diversions of drugs, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

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“Under the law, healthcare networks such as IHC have a responsibility to ensure that controlled substances are used for patient care and are not diverted for nonmedical purposes,” said U.S. Attorney John W. Huber. “Diversion of these drugs feeds addiction, contributes to potential illegal drug sales and fuels the opioid epidemic that has had a devastating effect on Utah and the rest of the country.”

Stronger drug diversion prevention programs are seen as a major element in combating the ongoing opioid epidemic. In addition to greater security measures, e-prescribing can prevent diversion.

Drug diversion has also led to patient safety concerns, as it has been linked to patient infections, including a bacterial outbreak at a Wisconsin hospital tied to syringes that a nurse tampered with to divert narcotics.

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