Federal authorities are investigating dozens of new cases of possible opioid and other drug theft by employees at Veterans Affairs hospitals, the Associated Press reported today.
The AP obtained data that shows that 36 criminal investigations were opened by the VA inspector general’s office from October 1 through May 19.
This brings the total number of open criminal cases to 108 that involve theft or unauthorized drug use. Most probes typically lead to criminal charges.
From the AP report:
The numbers are an increase from a similar period in the previous year. The VA has pledged “zero tolerance” in drug thefts following an AP story in February about a sharp rise in reported cases of stolen or missing drugs at the VA since 2009. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff in the VA’s network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics are suspected of siphoning away controlled substances for their own use or street sale — sometimes to the harm of patients — or drugs simply vanished without explanation.
Drug theft also occurs in private hospitals and is a growing problem in those facilities as well, but Drug Enforcement Administration obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show the rate of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double that of the private sector.
Possible reasons were cited by DEA investigators: larger quantity of drugs are kept in stock at the bigger VA medical centers to treat a higher volume of patients, both outpatient and inpatient, and prescriptions are often distributed by mail.
In February, new safeguards were put in place to prevent drug theft at VA centers, but criminal investigators said it is hard to tell if they are working:
“Prescription drug diversion is a multifaceted, egregious health care issue,” said Jeffrey Hughes, the acting VA assistant inspector general for investigations. “Veterans may be denied necessary medications or their proper dosage and medical records may contain false information to hide the diversion, further putting veterans’ health at risk.”
A nurse in the Spinal Cord Injury Ward at the VA center in Richmond, Virginia, was recently sentenced after she admitted to stealing oxycodone tablets and fentanyl patches from VA medication dispensers. She said she would sometimes shortchange the amount of pain medication prescribed to patients, taking the remainder to satisfy her addiction, the AP reports.
Drug inventory systems are also flawed, which is contributing to the problem – they lead to errors and months of delays in identifying when drugs are missing. In addition, prescription drug deliveries aren’t always properly inventoried upon arrival at VA facilities. This makes it difficult to determine if a drug was missing from a delivery, or stolen later.
VA medical centers have come under scrutiny for various serious problems in recent years, including dangerous conditions in some facilities, patients being neglected and ignored, veterans dying while waiting for care, and improper screenings for brain injuries, PTSD, and mental health issues. And, suicide continues to be a leading killer of veterans.
Delivered by The Daily Sheeple
We encourage you to share and republish our reports, analyses, breaking news and videos (Click for details).
Contributed by Lily Dane of The Daily Sheeple.
Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”