Data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) obtained by AP under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed the rate of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double that of the private sector, it was reported Monday.
Amid increasing drug thefts from hospitals in the nation, separate data obtained by the Associated Press showed 36 cases were opened by the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) inspector general's office from Oct. 1 through to May 19. Drug thefts have been rising at private hospitals as well as the government-run VA facilities with the illegal use of opioids increasing in the U.S.
Despite federal authorities launching dozens of new criminal investigations into possible opioid and other drug thefts by employees at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, the thefts are not declining. The figures have been rising since 2009, reports said.
In February too, there was a report by AP after it obtained government data on how there was a sharp increase in opioid theft, missing prescriptions or unauthorized drug use by VA employees since 2009.
Several VA hospitals did not properly track down their drug supplies. Congressional auditors said spot inspections found four VA hospitals skipped monthly inspections of drug stocks or missed other requirements.
“Drug theft is an area of concern,” Jeffrey Hughes, the VA’s acting assistant inspector general for investigations, told AP. He said monthly inspections could help eliminate the root cause of drug thefts in VA health facilities.
The Senate is expected to vote next month on VA accountability legislation that would give the agency "the tools necessary to remove employees who are failing to perform at the high-quality level." A lead sponsor of the bipartisan bill, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pointed to AP's findings as "troubling."
Thefts of drugs from hospitals can be attributed to hospital employees stealing controlled substances while on shift. This growing problem includes nurses stealing pills and even health providers stealing narcotics by tampering with syringes and vials, according to drugabuse.com.
The Northwest as well as some parts of the West North Central and the Southwest are at greater risk for hospital drug theft and loss. Wisconsin is the only state with excessive reverse-distributor inventory shortages.
According to the DEA, reverse distributors are people who receive controlled substances for the purpose of returning them to the manufacturer. In some cases, they are also in charge of disposing of substances.
Drug thefts in the U.S. is rising due to high demand for drugs such as opioid. The National Drug Intelligence Center reported $184 million in prescription drug thefts occurred in 2010 — a 350 percent increase since 2007. Older adults are particularly vulnerable as they may fall victim to "unscrupulous caregivers or family members, or even to strangers hunting for an easy target," according to National Neighborhood Watch, a division of the National Sheriffs' Association.