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Drug Diversion Problem is Bigger Than You Think

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 5, 2014

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations need to do a lot more than what they're currently doing to guard against drug diverters and catch them before they harm patients and themselves.

Federal health officials have sounded an alarm this week about a group of healthcare workers who are surely harming patients somewhere this very minute, engaging in behaviors about which most hospital officials are unaware or choose to ignore.

These are drug-addicted healthcare workers who divert injectable drugs and, in the process, contaminate the syringe and infect patients for whom the drugs were intended, depriving the sick of the sedation they require.

The problem is huge, it's growing, it's often swept under the rug or ignored, and we only know about the tip of the iceberg.

That's the scary warning from Melissa Schaefer, MD, medical officer, and Joe Perz, prevention team leader, for the Division of Healthcare Quality and Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In an hour-long conversation this week, Perz told me that hospitals and other healthcare organizations need to do a lot more to guard against drug diverters to catch them before they harm patients and themselves. But so far there just hasn't been much interest.

"The tendency has been first of all, to not look for a problem. And then, when a problem presents itself, a common approach is to deal with it as discreetly as possible. Unfortunately that ignores the laws and regulations that require prompt reporting of diversion…We have to overcome this idea that it's somehow optional because it's not optional to report when theft or a loss of a controlled substance is identified."

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