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Understanding Drug Diversion

ARE YOU CLEAR ON THE MEANING OF DRUG DIVERSION?

When we hear or see the phrase drug diversion it is our own personal lens that controls how we interpret the phrase. Many of us will latch on only to the word diversion and assume that what is being discussed is a criminal justice system of sentencing that offers alternatives to jail/prison time.

The phrase drug diversionon the other hand, has to do with the crime of diverting drugs from their intended recipient.  According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) drug diversion is the use of prescription drugs for recreational purposes.  And according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) drug diversion by healthcare providers can result in several types of patient harm:

  • Substandard care delivered by an impaired healthcare provider
  • Denial of essential pain medication or therapy
  • Or risks of infection (e.g. with hepatitis C virus or bacterial pathogens) if a provider tampers with injectable drugs

DRUG DIVERSION IN A HEALTH CARE SETTING IS NOT NEW

A few months back USAToday published an eye opening article:  Doctors, medical staff on drugs put patients at risk. We invite you to read the entire article and to watch their included video coverage, but perhaps the most startling statistic provided was this:

“The latest drug use data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, released in 2007, indicated that an average of 103,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and health care aides a year were abusing or dependent on illicit drugs. Various studies suggest the number could be far higher; an estimated one in 10 practitioners will fall into drug or alcohol abuse at some point in their lives, mirroring the general population.”

Are you surprised?  For sure 103,000 is a startling number and we may wonder how does this happen. The easiest answer is each of these health care providers is a human being and as such they, like the general population, are not immune to the disease of addiction.

Over the years we have seen this issue played out in movies, both on the big screen and television series. You can think back to Michael Caine’s Dr. Wilbur Larch in Cider House Ruleswho was addicted to ether.  Or the Dr. John Carter character in the television series ER who becomes addicted to narcotics, specifically fentanyl.  Since 2009 many of us have been drawn into Nurse Jackie‘s story, so well played on SHOWTIME. And this year CINEMAX introduced us to Dr. John Thackery in The KNICK and we now understand that health care providers in the early 1900’s too were addicted to cocaine and opium, and yes they secured their supply by drug diversion.

OIG AND NEWS MEDIA TURNS THE LENS ON DRUG DIVERSION

For the past year various governmental departments have worked to feature and highlight the high cost of drug diversion. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) published an article that offered:

“In addition to the drug-seekers, there are the drug-providers. In many of the cases that we investigate, health care providers such as physicians or pharmacists participate in drug diversion schemes. Some of these providers have written hundreds or thousands of unlawful, medically unnecessary prescriptions which were then billed to Medicare. In some cases, these providers billed from facilities that are nothing more than store fronts or “pill mills,” providing no legitimate care. The providers might even be addicted to the drugs themselves and may steal them for their own use or to sell on the streets.”

Recently the media published the following articles zeroing in on particular states:

SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT

Health care providers who find themselves addicted to prescription drugs need treatment like everyone else who suffers from substance abuse. Family Recovery Specialists offers adolescent and adult substance abuse counselors, treatment and consulting in Miami, Florida. We work to treat the unique needs of those who suffer from substance abuse and addiction. Our highly individualized and comprehensive approach to treatment can help you or a loved one break free from the devastating effects of substance abuse and addiction.

The State of Florida has been actively engaged in finding solutions for drug diversion for a number of years, particularly among nurses. They refer to it as their alternative discipline program which provides a network of support groups across the state.

ONE MORE RESOURCE

It is not unusual for readers to determine that maybe they work with someone who has a problem.  Often it is hard to know what to do as a loved one, friend, employers,co-worker, supervisor, manager, neighbor…we struggle to find answers.  One way is to seek help from your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Author

Bertrand T

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