Drug Diversion—Not Just a Problem for Hospitals
For years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been tightening surveillance of medication tracking in hospitals in an attempt to better control the not uncommon problem of drug diversion in the workplace. While hospital pharmacists struggle to meet regulatory requirements for dispensing controlled substances, retail pharmacists are also feeling the heat.
One pharmacy technician was caught ordering 1,000 hydrocodone pills for his own use. Further investigations into four of the connected family-owned pharmacies he has worked for found that 21,000 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills had been ordered off-the-books and without prescriptions over the past two years. These highly addictive pills were ordered by pharmacy technicians who worked there, and were in many cases being delivered to homes of users.
A Nationwide Epidemic
This case, however, is not unique. This year alone, a whopping one million missing pill dosages were reported in just the state of California. As prescription drug abuse continues to be a prevalent public health concern, the DEA is intensifying its efforts to monitor the illicit the flow of prescription drugs from pharmacies.
Pharmaceutical drug diversion is occurring all over the U.S.—both in the small, locally-owned and the large chain-operated pharmacies. Many of the cases could have been prevented by more careful monitoring of inventory. As such, the DEA is taking steps to implement better tracking of prescription drugs by increasing the amount of surprise inspections in pharmacies throughout the year.
Inspections Focus on Documentation
These inspections examine the pharmacy’s record keeping system. This system not only includes the controlled substance inventory log, but also a sales logbook of over-the-counter medications commonly used to make methamphetamines. The latter, a byproduct of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, requires that both the buyer and product purchased are listed in an attempt to prevent people from buying large quantities of the same drug.
In a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribute, DEA supervisory special agent Thomas Lenox stressed the importance of documenting the transactions: “You either have the documentation or not. If you don’t have them, you’re in violation.”
In addition to stringent record keeping checks, authorities are paying more attention to the prescriptions being filled. Some pharmacists, intent on filling the prescriptions, become casual in verifying the prescription beforehand—bypassing checks to make sure the prescription is not stolen, forged, or counterfeit.
Offending individuals can have their licenses revoked by the state board, and offending pharmacies can face a wide range of repercussions from letters of admonition to criminal charges.
State boards are now considering a mandated quarterly inventory of drug supplies to better track medications ordered. In addition, the DEA and pharmacy board are collaborating to educate pharmacists on current drug trends, spotting theft, security techniques, and proper stocking and storage of narcotics and painkillers in an attempt to further prevent drug diversion.