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HR Strategies for Dealing with Drug Diversion

By Lena J. Weiner  
   February 08, 2016

Not talking about the problem doesn't make it go away, but being prepared will help HR teams deal with it when the issue comes up—and sooner or later, it will.

No one wants to believe one of their employees is diverting drugs meant for sick patients. That makes frank discussion of drug diversion between management and employees uncomfortable and difficult.

But odds are good that someone in your hospital is taking drugs intended for patients. An estimated 100,000 healthcare workers in the United States are addicts and as many as 20% of nurses are estimated to have substance abuse problems.


Donna Patty, RN

The most well-known case of drug diversion may be the case of a contract radiology specialist caught after a stint at an Exeter, NH, hospital, who for years took advantage of lax screening and reporting policies to gain access to multiple health system's drug supplies. He was eventually apprehended once authorities realized he'd spread Hepatitis C to at least 46 patients nationwide.

Disturbing cases like this are why hospitals need proactive policies are necessary to deal with the problem.

"Drug diversion is something most organizations don't want to talk about, but we realize it's a concern, not just in our organization, but also nationally," says Donna Patty, RN, compliance specialist at University of Tennessee Medical Center. "We just chose to be very proactive in our approach instead of reactive."

By acknowledging that drug diversion is a real risk, human resources leaders can implement policies to protect patients, help addicted staff, and ensure that the organization is in compliance with regulations.

Stick to the Process
UTMC has a defined process in place for dealing with drug diversion, says Patty.

"Human resources informs compliance of any issue related to drug diversion. Compliance investigates, and then HR and the [suspected employee's] manager will determine what to do based on the results of that investigation.

If, during a reasonable suspicion drug test… the employee tests positive [for drugs], the employee is discharged immediately."

The employee might also be discharged if he tests negative but evidence is found during the investigation that he has been involved in drug diversion.

The process is in writing and has been vetted by all pertinent departments at UTMC. Employees and their managers are aware of it, and everyone in the hospital understands that drug diversion is unacceptable and will result in termination.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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