After surgery or when they are experiencing severe pain, hospital patients are given powerful pain medications as part of their treatment. But what happens when a patient who is in excruciating pain from a terminal illness receives Tylenol, an over-the-counter headache remedy instead of the more powerful opioid pain medication Oxycodone. When a hospital patient or nursing home resident’s pain medications are stolen and swapped out with a replacement medication, the crime is referred to as drug diversion, and as one aspect of the opioid epidemic it is rampant in the health care system in the United States.
Pharmacy Times defines drug diversion as, “the transfer of a prescription drug from a lawful to an unlawful channel of distribution or use.” The estimated cost of controlled prescription drug diversion and abuse to both public and private insurers is about $72.5 billion each year. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals with easy access to the medications in their workplace have all been found diverting drugs either to support a personal habit, or to sell for profit.
In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice conducted the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action in a national health care fraud takedown, which resulted in charges against more than 412 individuals responsible for $1.3 billion in fraud losses. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force charged 412 defendants across 41 federal districts including the Northern District of Ohio and the Western District of Kentucky, where 11 defendants were charged with defrauding the Medicaid program. In one case, four defendants, including three medical professionals, were charged with distributing controlled substances and fraudulently billing the Medicaid program.
The defendants allegedly participated in schemes to submit claims to Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare for treatments that were not medically necessary and in some cases never provided. “Last year, an estimated 59,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, many linked to the misuse of prescription drugs. This is, quite simply, an epidemic,” said Acting Administrator Rosenberg. “There is a great responsibility that goes along with handling controlled prescription drugs, and DEA and its partners remain absolutely committed to fighting the opioid epidemic using all the tools at our disposal.”
The consequences of drug diversion
In Pennsylvania, 17 patients are suing the Jefferson Regional Medical Center for negligence after being denied pain medication after a hospital pharmacy technician replaced it with a medication that had a similar appearance. The complaint alleges that an estimated 362 patients may have received non-narcotic medication after the pharmacy technician replace it. The Pharmacy tech pleaded guilty to illegally acquiring a controlled substance, theft, and recklessly endangering another person. she was ordered to serve six to 12 months in jail with three months of probation. The negligence claim includes allegations that the hospital failed to check medications that were being given to patients, the failure to supervise employees and the failure to have a system in place to inventory medications and prevent their theft according to a story in the Post-Gazette.
In Iowa, nine patients filed a lawsuit against Iowa Methodist Medical Center, which accuses the hospital of negligence in failing to supervise a pharmacy technician who stole Fentanyl in 2016 between August and October. The employee used a syringe to withdraw the medication and they refilled the vials with a saline solution. The pharmacy technician admitted to the charges, was fired and relinquished his state license. As of August 2017 no criminal charges have been filed and the case is with the Assistant U.S. Attorney according to a story in the De Moines Register.
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury because your pain medication was taken away or an imposter drug was substituted for it by a medical professional, the experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Crandall & Pera Law are here to help you. We have the knowledge and the skill to present a compelling case on your behalf. You are welcome to call our Ohio lawyers at 877.686.8879 and our Kentucky attorneys at 877.651.7764 to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case. You can also contact us through our contact form.