An Unfortunate Account of Drug Diversion in a Hospital

hospital scene

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States and opioids specifically, are the gigantic thrust propelling this epidemic.  More than traffic accidents, work-related deaths, or accidents in the home.  What is alarming to a health care professional is when a colleague resorts to stealing drugs (diversion) at work and perishes as the result.

When any health care professional is finished administering medication, the needle, syringe, vials, ampules, and other waste regarding the injection is placed into a Sharps container.  The Sharps container is to provide safe and simple disposal of used materials.

sharps containersIt was in Vancouver Canada that a middle-aged nursing assistant had found a clear unlabeled syringe in a biohazard box.  She injected the solution, thinking and believing the solution to be an opioid, only to suffer immediate paralysis, respiratory arrest, and death.  What was believed to be an opioid drug was a neuromuscular blocking agent.

Hospitals, including the facility in Canada, have several secure measures in place to prevent unauthorized access to controlled or extremely hazardous medications.  Accounting for drugs from when the pharmacy department receives their drug order all the way to the hospital floor where patients are being treated.  But what happened in Vancouver was that the employee stole waste or discarded vials, syringes, and patches of leftover drugs from the biohazard boxes.

Another alarming statistic is that one in ten health professionals is contending with drug abuse or actual addiction.  It is sad to report, but very few are caught.  Healthcare is stressful, leading many to turn to legal tobacco and alcohol as a means to unwind.  Sadly, alcohol and tobacco may lead to addiction and drug abuse for those who rely on these for relaxation.

Healthcare leaders have a challenge:  to better monitor worker’s behavior, to secure even wasted or unused medications, secure controlled substances in the operating rooms during and between surgical cases, further look into monitoring systems at drug retrieval areas, and secure and account for all sharps containers.

Patients deserve and need to have optimal care.   Theft of drugs and abuse by healthcare team members put patients and their fellow workers at risk for less than the best care and added stress to colleagues.  Attention and combined efforts to prevent drug diversion in the healthcare workplace is mandatory.

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