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Drug Diversion In Hospitals

Drug addiction is a horrible monster that affects so many people. Drug diversion is a problem within the walls of healthcare institutions. In this article, we delve into the dangers posed by drug diversion in hospitals, shedding light on a hidden threat that jeopardizes the well-being of patients and erodes trust in the healthcare system.

drug diversion in hospital setting

What Is Drug Diversion?

Drug diversion is the theft of prescription medications for the purpose of illegal use or sale. In medical settings, like hospitals, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices drug diversion can cause serious harm to patients.

Healthcare workers may steal the medications to feed their own addiction or for sale to drug users. A nurse or pharmacist may replace opioids, like oxycodone or fentanyl with something that looks similar. Hospitals and healthcare facilities must have processes and policies in place to prevent drug diversion.

When healthcare facilities have proper procedures in place, drug diversion is prevented and/or quickly caught. Diversion of medications in a healthcare setting doesn’t usually affect patients. However, there are some extreme cases that people should be aware of.

Diversion And Replacement

You might have heard about the Yale fertility clinic where a nurse stole vials of fentanyl in 2019-2020. The nurse was given total and unsupervised control of all the medications used in the clinic – which is an extreme lapse in security. To hide the fact that she was stealing fentanyl, she replaced the fluid in the vials with saline (saltwater). Because she replaced the liquid inside the vials, it was several months until the theft was discovered.

During this time, patients underwent painful surgeries without any pain medication. Doctors and nurses originally believed they were giving patients fentanyl and ignored patient complaints of pain. Patients understood something was wrong, but because of the time-sensitive nature of the procedure, continued to endure the extreme pain. Despite the large increase of pain complaints from patients, no one at the clinic investigated the cause.

This situation isn’t common, but does happen when procedures aren’t followed and/or enforced. The Yale fertility clinic patients and the nurse were the focus of a lawsuit. In the lawsuit, over 70 patients are seeking compensation for the pain and harm they endured.

hospital painkiller diversion lawsuits

Diversion Is Hard To Prove

In the situation described above, patients were told their pain levels were normal. Despite the increase in the number of patients reporting extreme pain levels, the clinic did nothing to investigate. This negligence to investigate allowed the nurse to continue to steal more fentanyl and victimize more patients.

An anesthesiologist at the clinic discovered several fentanyl vials had loose caps. This prompted an investigation that found someone had been replacing the fluid in the vials. A weekend went by, and the following week the nurse turned herself in to the authorities and explained what she had been doing. She faced criminal charges for her crimes.

A letter was sent to patients at the clinic. The letter stated, in very vague language, that a nurse was caught stealing medication and there was no reason to believe anyone had been harmed. But this wasn’t exactly true. Some patients had experienced surgery with nothing to block the pain.

Healthcare Negligence

Some patients knew something was wrong. Each patient thought they were the only one experiencing this pain until they were able to connect with other patients at the same clinic. Through an online support group, the patients were able to discuss their pain and quickly discovered they weren’t alone.

What the patients had endured was the result of negligence. Healthcare providers have a duty to secure, identify, and inventory the medications used on patients.

Holding Healthcare Facilities Accountable

This isn’t the only time a healthcare worker has replaced fentanyl with saline. There have been multiple successful lawsuits involving this exact same situation. Additionally, there are many instances of nurses replacing oxycodone, and other strong painkillers, with aspirin. The only way to force healthcare facilities to protect patients is with a negligence lawsuit.

When To Contact An Attorney

Have you been the victim of drug diversion in a healthcare setting? Is there physical evidence of your claim? Talk to a medical malpractice attorney at Haggerty Silverman & Justice for a free consultation. Our attorneys are licensed to practice in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.