We’ve all seen it in the movies; that scene where a desperate drug-addicted doctor or nurse breaks the glass of the hospital drug cabinet and steals their badly needed medications. Only in the movies, right? Wrong. The fact is that drug theft in hospitals and in nursing homes is on the rise. And, they aren’t necessarily breaking cabinets to get it.
In long term care environments it’s even easier to steal medications than in hospitals. Why?
• Administering of daily cycle and PRN medications in long term care facilities is a multi-step labor intensive process with plenty of room for human error, whether intentional or on purpose.
• Medications are organized and handled by rotating staffs in multiple locations, all by hand.
• Many of the most common medications for ailing seniors are also popular recreational drugs; for example, oxycodone and hydrocodone compounds are commonplace in nursing homes.
• Patients and residents with cognitive disabilities are less likely to be aware when improper dosage is administered.
And the flow of medications passing hands every day in nursing homes is impressive. A recent article in Long Term Living Magazine referenced some eye opening stats from the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) “The average nursing home resident takes 6.7 routinely scheduled and 2.6 “as needed” medications, according to a national study. In addition, 27 percent of long term care residents take nine or more routinely scheduled medications.” It doesn’t take much math to realize that there are plenty of medications to be found in various stages of delivery, storage, preparation, administration, and disposal. Thousands of doses.
Nurses, themselves, acknowledge the problem.
Nurses who are burned out, stressed out and feeling unappreciated are at a higher risk for substance abuse. When drugs are easily accessible; such as partial pills tossed out due to contamination, the temptation, for more vulnerable nurses or CNAs, can be high. In a revealing article by a nurse, from cracked.com, a nurse admits how simple it can be. “There’s nothing to stop you from stealing drugs and needles”, she says. And, she is quick to add, patients with forms of dementia won’t notice a missing pill or two.
How to reduce the risk of stolen drugs? Remove the temptation.
As medications theft continues to trend upwards in long term care environments, many operators are taking measures to improve the storage and management of medications. Measures include:
• Employing high-security secure automated systems to safeguard access.
• Relocating medication containment and management systems to secure areas with surveillance cameras.
• Upgrade medication processes, workflows, and automation to just-in-time packaging on-demand, utilizing products such as Talyst’s InSite® System in-facility packaging and dispensing technology. With InSite, long term care facilities have on-premises capabilities and efficiencies unlike any simple medication cabinet.
Many millions of dollars are lost each year through medication errors and theft. And many thousands of LTC residents and staff are put at risk, one way or another. We are no doubt aware that when medications are stolen or, as the DEA would say, “diverted from the intended patient,” state narcotic abuse agencies as well as the DEA may become involved. Once that happens, the unwanted kind of publicity may affect the facility, the residents, the staff, and the medical director – with headlines that could unravel all the hard work and effort you put into building your long term care community.