Fentanyl and OxyContin Fuel Demand for Stolen Prescriptions
As huge corporations continue to face legal repercussions in federal court for their role in the Opioid Crisis, doctors and nurses are being punished in criminal courts for stealing prescription Opioids. In another instance of medical malpractice, 19 patients were infected by medical technician Kristen Parker after surgery. According to CBS, Parker infected the patient by reusing tainted needles. Parker is also accused of stealing patients’ medication. Reports detailed how Parker removed syringes from surgical trays, used them, replaced the contents with saline, and put them in trays.
Experts have described Parker’s act as another instance of “Opioid diversion” and cited it as a reflection of American’s battle with Opioids. Over 47 million doses of prescription Opioids have been diverted for illicit use, resulting in a 126% increase from the previous year. Data firm Protenus has actively researched the issue, citing 34% of the incidents occur at hospitals or medical centers. In close second were pharmacies, private medical practices, and long-term care facilities.
Not surprisingly, drugs like Fentanyl, Hydrocodone and OxyContin were the most commonly abused. Much of America’s Opioid Epidemic features Fentanyl and OxyContin as the most widely-abused substances. It most often occurs when patients suffering from chronic pain are prescribed medication and become dependent. Opioids release powerful pain-blocking chemicals that some patients abuse and cannot stop or control.
A regular prescription of Vicodin or OxyContin may quickly transition into an Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Roughly 77% of cases involving Opioid theft included Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, or synthetic Opioids like Fentanyl. Another troubling finding is that when medications are stolen, 67% of the time doctors and nurses have committed the offense.
Availability and Access to Opioids Still Easy for Doctors, Nurses
The risk of medical staff abusing prescription Opioids can be easy to develop. Opioids are widely available and accessible to staff.
Dr. Stephen Loyd began with a low dose of Lortab (a brand name version of Hydrocodone), then switched to 500 mg of OxyContin (a more potent version of Oxycodone) each day. He noted the lack of requirements for the switch could potentially encourage Opioid theft by medical staff. Eventually, he began stealing drugs from his own patients.
Opioid abuse by medical professionals can be challenging, as doctors and nurses are around a variety of medications. If he or she has tried a prescription drug, it can be easy to continue abusing it as there are few regulations keeping medical staff away from strong Opioids. Additionally, doctors, nurses, and technicians are subjected to high levels of stress on a daily basis. This is often taxing on staff and they may abuse substances to cope.
Now, Loyd operates a rehab facility. His OUD has caused him to fear the loss of his car, career, health and life. Loyd also teaches medical staff who struggle with Opioid abuse to get help.
The Department of Justice has implemented an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit to help decrease and prevent future cases of Opioid theft. A representative of Protenus foreshadows the firm will likely find more cases of Opioid theft in the future.