Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said they are taking actions to crackdown on increasing theft of prescription drugs from their facilities, beginning with increased drug testing of employees.
Carolyn Clancy, a deputy VA undersecretary for health, testified to the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight Monday regarding rising rates of opioid theft by employees. Clancy told the committee the department will increase drug testing of employees in an effort to track workers who may be abusing prescription pills. The department is also in the process of hiring additional inspectors to keep better track of drug inventories, reports the Associated Press.
The VA came under fire last week after a report revealed theft in their facilities have skyrocketed since 2010. Reported cases of drug theft from federal medical hospitals rose from only 272 in 2009 to 2,926 in 2015. There are currently roughly 100 criminal probes open regarding stolen medications from VA hospitals.
“The use of illegal drugs by VA employees is inconsistent with the special trust placed in such employees who care for veterans,” Clancy told the committee, according to the Associated Press. “We actually need to up our game.”
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.
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.
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, Ark., 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.
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