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Hospital drug diversion could play a role in the opioid crisis, research finds

The majority of providers are concerned about drug diversion in hospitals, but only 20 percent believe diversion is cause for concern where they work

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Hospital drug diversion, when a healthcare worker "diverts" opiates or other controlled substances away from patients for personal use or sale, is often undetected and can lead to patient safety issues, harm to the diverter and significant risk for the organization, new research finds.

Global medical technology organization Becton, Dickinson and Company released the report, based on an independent national survey that examines drug diversion in U.S. hospitals -- which the group said is an underreported contributor to the opioid epidemic.

The report is based on findings from an independent survey of 651 healthcare executives and providers commissioned by the BD Institute for Medication Management Excellence and conducted by KRC Research, a global public opinion research consultancy.


The report revealed a number of key factors that contribute to drug diversion.

For one, executives and providers -- nurses, pharmacists and anesthesiologists -- may be in denial about the diversion problem in their own facilities. The majority of providers surveyed, 85 percent, were concerned about drug diversion in U.S hospitals, but only 20 percent believe diversion is cause for concern where they work.

Despite this, half of respondents report they have observed suspicious activity in their hospitals that may have been evidence of diversion.

Healthcare professionals also believe the tools they're using to detect diversion are only somewhat effective, and expressed the need for improved real-time detection tools to identify diverters without generating false positives.

Specifically, 59 percent of executives want more accurate data to reduce false positives; 54 percent would like artificial intelligence or machine learning technologies and advanced analytics; and 53 percent would like to see mandatory diversion training. Hospital executives and providers believe that, if given the appropriate resources, diversion can be significantly mitigated.

Among other findings: Both executives and providers believe hospitals are stressful work environments, which may be a contributing factor that can make healthcare providers vulnerable to substance misuse. In fact, 78 percent of providers have known a peer who seemed stressed "to the breaking point."


The national opioid epidemic has reached unprecedented heights, with Americans now more likely to die from opioid overdose than in a car accident -- nearly 200 people a day on average, according to a 2019 analysis by the National Safety Council. Between 10 and 15 percent of the general population will misuse substances in their lives, including healthcare workers with access to controlled substances.

A 2018 report from Drug Diversion Digest found 71 percent of drug diversion incidents between January and June of that year involved a physician or nurse, which accounts for $164 million worth of theft.

BD is in the business of identifying clinicians who may be involved in drug diversion. The company offers a HealthSight Diversion Management program that uses machine learning algorithms and other dispensing behaviors to identify clinicians whose behavior indicates a risk.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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