Drug diversion provides 'fix' for addicted health care professionals
Kathlene Calahan, W5 Staff
Published Saturday, February 3, 2018 7:00AM EST
It’s health care’s dirty little secret: addicted hospital employees, nurses, pharmacists and doctors who steal narcotics intended for patients.
Known as drug diversion, it can have serious health risks for both patients and health care workers.
A Canadian nurse who spoke to W5 on condition of anonymity knows the lure and the danger. She was stealing drugs from her hospital to feed her addiction.
“I ended up injecting IV narcotics probably a couple of months after I took my first pill, and that was a very devastating course,” she said.
That devastating course led her to a near-fatal overdose.
“I woke up in the emergency department, obviously terribly embarrassed, terribly ashamed of where I was,” she said.
Drug diversion poses serious harm or serious risks for patients as well. Lauren Lollini had no idea when she went into hospital in 2009 for a routine surgery that her life would be forever changed.
“Everything with that procedure went well and then about six weeks after that, I started to feel fatigue, extreme fatigue,” said Lollini, who lives in Illinois.
After further investigation into her medical care, Lollini was given alarming news. On the day of her operation, a surgical technician who was addicted to opioids injected the painkiller meant for Lauren into her own arm, refilling that same syringe with saline.
Unbeknownst to Lauren, that surgical technician had hepatitis C, so when the same syringe was given back to Lollini, not only did she not get her pain medication, she was also infected with the potentially deadly liver disease.
According to experts, drug diversion is more prevalent than hospital officials are willing to admit.
With the addiction rate in the general population hovering around 20 per cent, according to Statistics Canada, the odds are good that someone in your local hospital is taking drugs intended for patients.
John Burke, a leading anti-diversion advocate in the United States, has created the International Health Facility Diversion Association (IHFDA) to combat this problem.
“Institutions don’t report, I think, for a variety of reasons. You know, they are concerned about being on the 6 o’clock news and showing that ‘Hey, a nurse stole drugs,’” he told W5 in an interview.
In Canada, hospitals are required to report all detected loss and theft of narcotics to Health Canada within 10 days. Health Canada logs how many times controlled substances are lost or stolen, tracking drug types and amounts.
Regulatory bodies like the College of Nurses of Ontario expect those who employ nurses to comply with mandatory reporting obligations for members, reporting them if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they are incompetent or incapacitated.
However, this doesn’t always happen.
The Canadian nurse who spoke to W5 said, despite eventually being caught by her hospital, she was never reported to her nursing college or to police.
W5's documentary "Hospital Secrets" airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV