Drug Theft in Nursing Homes

By: Pam Cox, RN

When a drug is stolen from a nursing home it is usually an employee who is responsible.

This occurs when policy and procedures for the administration, storage, and medication destruction procedures are not followed. Some of the drugs most commonly involved are painkillers like Oxycodone and Fentanyl. These drugs can be just as addictive as Cocaine and Heroin. Other medications at risk for theft are Percocet, Lortab, and other combinations of Hydrocodone.

Along with painkillers, anti-anxiety meds such as Xanax and Valium are also frequent targets of nursing home medication theft.

The following are samples of actual medication theft from nursing homes.

Medications left in med cups on residents’ night stand or bedside tables make it easy for any other employee to take the medication either for their own use or to sell for a profit. In this case, the CMA did not remain with the resident until all medications had been taken.

In another instance, pain medication patches such as Fentanyl were literally ripped off the body of nursing home residents by nursing assistants and/or other direct care staff. All oncoming shifts should have checked to ensure documented patches were in place with time and date noted on the outside of the patch.

Some employees have also used their position of phoning legitimate prescriptions authorized by the physician to call in fraudulent prescriptions of Hydrocodone for residents of the nursing home. These residents had not been prescribed the Hydrocodone by their doctor. Then the employee personally uses the illegally obtained drug or sells it on the street.

The medical staff has also been reported substituting other drugs, mostly over-the-counter drugs which are not required by regulations to be counted after each shift, in place of a prescribed controlled substance that was ordered by the physician. For example, substituting Tylenol for Percocet or Hydrocodone.

Another employee was caught taking a syringe containing Fentanyl and replacing it with a syringe containing saline.

Another employee, in Administration, under the guise of improper use of sharps containers, collected all the contents in the facilities bio-hazard sharp containers and retrieved large pump syringes which still contained substantial amounts of Morphine or Dilaudid.

All of these employees were caught and turned over to the authorities. All received fines and/or jail time with a loss of their medical licenses. One employee died of a drug overdose.

No employee from Administration to Maintenance should be above reproach. Without strict adherence to facility and procedure, all of the examples listed above occurred. Ensuring that employees adhere to policy along with routine drug testing could have helped deter these thefts. Hopefully, these examples of employee theft will help in the on-going struggle against prescription drug abuse. Employers have to know what to look for besides signs and symptoms.