The Drug Diversion Problem

Drug diversion is a serious problem in America and across the globe. It creates risks for patients, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and others, and the problem is only growing. Although the diversion of narcotic painkillers like oxycodone has received the most attention in recent years, any controlled substance is at risk. Read on to find out more about this serious problem and what healthcare workers can do to help prevent it.

What Is Drug Diversion?

Drug diversion can occur at any point in the supply chain from the manufacturing plant to the patient. Some cases of drug diversion involve the theft of medications for sale on the black market, while other controlled substances are stolen by hospital and pharmacy workers, themselves.

There’s a commonly held assumption within the healthcare industry that some level of drug diversion is inevitable, but thankfully, that’s not true. Sometimes, steps as simple as purchasing a better hospital pharmacy cart can be enough to reduce instances of medication thefts.

How Serious Is the Problem?

Drug diversion is a serious problem, and it’s only getting worse. The majority of problems occur within healthcare facilities, where 21 million doses were diverted in 2017 alone. In 2018, the number of doses diverted away from patients to illicit users rose to over 47 million . The vast majority of these cases involved prescription opioid medications, which are known to be addictive and can cause fatal overdoses.

During the same time period, an average of 41 Americans per day died from prescription opioid overdoses. Granted, some of these unfortunate people were patients prescribed opioids by their doctors. However, the majority of them either purchased the drugs on the black market after they were diverted or stole them directly from healthcare facilities.

How to Reduce Drug Diversion in Healthcare Facilities

The good news is, there are concrete steps that any healthcare facility director can take to reduce incidents of drug diversion. A good drug diversion prevention program will have three components:

  1. Prevention

Every facility should have a plan in place for safeguarding against the diversion of controlled substances. It should involve not just purchasing specialized equipment like locked medication carts, but also educating staff about the problem and protocols for resolving it. Facility directors are responsible for minimizing unauthorized access using a combination of specialized equipment and staff protocols.

  1. Detection

Even with safeguards in place, facility managers must remain vigilant to ensure early detection. Monitor high-risk areas using security cameras, keep track of dispensing data from pharmacies and make sure that the staff is informed about how to spot the warning signs of not just substance use disorder, but also drug diversion, more generally. There should also be a system in place for reporting instances of drug diversion.

  1. Response

Appropriate responses to drug diversion problems include assessing potential harm to patients, encouraging reporting among staff, and passing on essential information about the theft of controlled substances to appropriate enforcement agencies. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must be notified along with local law enforcement and licensing boards each time an incident occurs. Use these incidents as teachable moments for staff to reduce future problems.

Drug diversion is a serious problem in today’s hospitals and pharmacies. The only way to turn the numbers around and reduce thefts of controlled substances is to create a culture within the healthcare facility that takes drug diversion seriously. Facility managers can do their part by implementing a plan and ensuring that no incident goes unreported.

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