Home >  News >  March, 2017

What's Behind the Spike in Opioids Disappearing from VA Hospitals?

The drug losses have been attributed to clinical staff stealing medications, either for their own use or for sale on the street.

Published: March 1, 2017

OVERSIGHT In light of the report, the VA is now requiring hospitals to comply with inspection procedures and develop plans to supervise drug supplies more effectively.

The incidence of opioids and other medications going "missing" from federal hospitals in more than a dozen states — most of them run by the Department of Veterans Affairs — has spiked since 2009. The drug losses have been attributed, at least in part, to theft from doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff who are suspected of keeping the drugs for their own use or selling them on the street.

Data obtained by the Associated Press show that reported incidents of drug losses at the VA's more than 1,100 facilities, as well as 7 correctional hospitals and 20 or so hospitals serving Indian tribes, jumped from 272 in 2009 to a high of 2,926 in 2015 before dropping to 2,457 last year, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In light of such reports, the heads of 2 congressional committees — Rep. Phil Roe, MD, a Republican from Tennessee who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee — have urged the VA to better explain its efforts to stem drug theft and loss in light of rising cases of missing prescriptions and other unauthorized use at VA hospitals.

President Donald Trump's newly confirmed VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, FACP, who served as the department's undersecretary of health prior to being confirmed in his current post, indicated the need to take action. In a TV interview earlier this week, Dr. Shulkin described VA employees as the "best in health care," but he also pledged to remove clinicians who have played a part in thefts of opioids and other controlled substances.

The VA, for its part, has acknowledged problems keeping up with monthly inspections, according to the AP report. It also said it is now requiring hospitals to comply with inspection procedures and develop plans to improve oversight.

Outpatient Surgery Magazine's attempts to reach the VA for comment were unsuccessful.

Bill Donahue


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