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Opioid And Drug Theft Rampant At Veterans Affairs Hospitals: Report

Feds are looking into dozens of new cases of potential opioid and drug theft made by employees at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Missing Drugs At VA Health Facilities

Data gathered by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the incidence of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double compared with that of the private sector.

The data showed 36 cases opened by the office of the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general from Oct. 1 to May 19. The numbers increased from that of the similar period in the previous year.

Doctors and other medical staff in the VA network of over 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics nationwide are suspected of getting controlled substances for their personal use or for street sales, which poses harm to patients, or the drugs simply disappeared without explanation.

Theft And Unauthorized Drug Use In VA Medical Centers And Clinics

The new cases bring the total number of open criminal cases that involve theft or unauthorized use of drugs to 108. Most of these often lead to criminal charges.

In one case, a nurse working at the VA medical center in Richmond, Virginia, was sentenced after she admitted stealing oxycodone tablets and fentanyl patches from VA medication dispensers. The nurse, who worked at the center's Spinal Cord Injury Ward, said that she sometimes shortchange the amount of pain medication that were prescribed to patients to take the remainder and satisfy her addiction.

In another case, a VA employee in Baltimore admitted that he injected himself with fentanyl that was supposed to be for patients heading into surgery and then refilled the syringes with saline solution. The patients received solution that was tainted with the Hepatitis C virus carried by the VA worker.

Potential Harm To Patients

Acting VA assistant inspector general for investigations Jeffrey Hughes raised concern over the potential harm these incidents pose to patients. Hughes cited in particular the risk of harming the patients.

"Health care providers who divert for personal use may be providing care while under the influence of narcotics," he said.

There is also a possibility that patients are denied of the medications they need. VA pain management specialist Dale Klein related that some of his patients suspected that they were not getting the medications they need. One patient with an amputated leg even had to do without morphine because the VA pharmacy said that it did not have sufficient supply.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged the congress to pass a legislation that would give the agency the needed tools for dismissing employees engaged in misconduct. The senate will vote on the bill on June 6.

Earlier this year, the VA announced efforts to fight drug thefts which include additional inspections and employee drug tests. It also said that it was working to come up with additional policies that can boost drug safety and reduce drug theft and diversion.

"Those VA employees who are entrusted with serving our nation's wounded, ill and injured veterans must be held to a higher standard," said Joe Davis, of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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