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By Steve Birr
Theft of prescription opioids from hospitals under the direction of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is skyrocketing and risking the treatment of wounded soldiers.
Federal investigators are increasing efforts to crack down on the theft of prescription painkillers for personal use or sale by VA employees. Cases of stolen medication are rising across the board in federal hospitals, particularly medical facilities run by the VA. Reported cases of drug theft from federal medical hospitals rose from only 272 in 2009 to 2,926 in 2015 and there are currently roughly 100 criminal probes open regarding stolen medications from VA hospitals, reports Real Clear Defense.
The issue is keeping key medications away from the veterans who need them. A VA employee in Baltimore infected with Hepatitis C admitted to shooting up with the opiate-based painkiller fentanyl from syringes meant for patients going into surgery. He then refilled the syringes with saline solution, infecting a number of VA patients with the disease.
“Those VA employees who are entrusted with serving our nation’s wounded, ill and injured veterans must be held to a higher standard,” Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the Associated Press.
A veteran at a pain management clinic run by the VA was denied the morphine he needed to treat an amputated leg because the clinics supplies were depleted. The whistleblower who reported the clinic, Dr. Dale Klein, alleges he faced retaliation after voicing concerns to superiors about the missing medication, reports NBC News.
Investigators say the sharp increase in theft can partially be attributed to the national opioid epidemic. VA employees with addictions to opioids may steal the pills for personal use, while others are using their access to steal pills in bulk for distribution on the street.
A group of employees at the VA hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, were arrested for conspiring to steal large quantities of several prescription drugs. One of the employees accessed the web portal of a medical supplier, using it to order a shipment of 4,000 oxycodone pills and 3,300 hydrocodone pills with a street value of $160,000.
Poorly conducted inspections of drug supplies in VA facilities are compounding the problem and adding to fears veterans may not always be receiving the medications they need. In many cases clinics were found skipping monthly inspections all together. The VA hospital in Washington, D.C., is the worst offender. Investigators said officials failed to conduct monthly inspections of the their drug supplies more than 40 percent of the time at the facility.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Monday to address the mounting problem.
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