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Drug Diversion Problem is Bigger Than You Think

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 5, 2014

This week, to announce its call for more awareness and hospital-based drug diversion prevention programs, the CDC launched a website devoted to the topic of healthcare worker drug diversion. It explains that theft of a controlled substance by a drug diverter can result in:

  • Substandard care delivered by an impaired provider,
  • Denial of essential pain medication or therapy, and
  • Risks of infection with hepatitis or bacterial pathogens.

As Serious as an SSI
Perz believes hospitals should start thinking of drug diversion as an adverse event as serious and common as a surgical site infection, The rate for those approaches 1% in some hospitals and drug diversion is likely just as common, he says.

The 118 incidents he and Schaefer reviewed, he says, are "clearly an underestimate of the true burden of patient harm that results from healthcare workers stealing controlled substances and tampering with opioids and other drugs. It struck Dr. Schaefer and me that awareness and appreciation of this issue and its magnitude are lacking."

Perz points to estimates from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration showing that more than 100,000 employed healthcare workers have substance abuse issues. And he references a survey of anesthesiologists in training last year that found 1% were caught or died from their addictions.

Happening Everywhere Controlled Substances Are Used
Kim New, who until recently was hospital manager of controlled substance surveillance at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, tells me that in that role, she apprehended—through diligent tracking—one or two addicted nurses per month for diverting drugs from patients.

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