More on Compliance & Legal

Healthcare employee misuse and theft of pills totaled $164 million this year

Hospitals and health systems should adopt better strategies to ensure physicians and nurses don't shift pills to the black market.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor


Opioid abuse continues to be a hot topic in the U.S., and a new report from Drug Diversion Digest says some healthcare workers may be exacerbating the issue, with 71 percent of drug diversion incidents between January and June involving a physician or nurse. That accounts for $164 million worth of theft.


The $164 million in lost drugs translates to almost 19 million pills in the first half of this year alone, but the report stresses that many incidents go unreported, meaning the true numbers could be higher.

Many healthcare systems are aware of the issue and are doing their best to monitor for such incidents, but they're hampered by manual detection methods, often requiring sifting through stacks of transaction logs. 

Strategies may include the use of artificial intelligence to review every transaction within hospital systems, allowing investigators to pinpoint the exact moment diversion occurs, the report said.


Just last week, the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society prodded the healthcare industry to ramp up efforts to address the opioid crisis using information and technology.

Specifically, HIMSS recommended leveraging prescription drug monitoring programs; equipping healthcare workers with interoperable health information; using secure, interoperable technology across the care continuum; and using technological advances to securely share information across disciplines.


Drug diversion references the removal of drugs from the legal market and onto the black market, and in some ways, it's not surprising that some unscrupulous clinicians would have a hand in that: They have easy access to controlled substances, after all.

The main takeaway for hospitals and health systems is that more proactive monitoring is required to ensure physicians and nurses don't illegally shift large volumes of pills.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: