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FMG Law Blog Line

Higher Screening Standards Needed to Prevent Fentanyl Misappropriation in Hospitals

Posted on: November 4th, 2016

By: Robyn Flegal

A disturbing trend is on the rise. Hospital employees are misappropriating drugs intended for patients. The drug of choice is fentanyl, which has been used as a prescription painkiller since the 1960s, but is up to fifty times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.[1] In some areas of the United States, deaths resulting from fentanyl overdoses are more prevalent than deaths resulting from heroin overdoses.[2]

Several newsworthy cases illustrate this trend toward fentanyl misappropriation by hospital staff. A nurse in Colorado is suspected of misappropriating fentanyl intended for patients after she was found with fentanyl doses exceeding the amounts nurses typically need for their patients.[3] A month before, in another Colorado hospital, a surgical technician was arrested for allegedly tampering with “a syringe containing fentanyl citrate by removing the syringe containing [fentanyl] and replacing it with a similar syringe containing ‘other substances.’”[4] Other hospital employees, including surgical technicians,[5] emergency medical technicians,[6] and pharmacy technicians[7] have been investigated for similar circumstances of fentanyl misappropriation.

Hospitals should be aware of this dangerous trend and should limit employee access to fentanyl. Hospitals should implement thorough screening procedures and background investigation before hiring employees who will have access to fentanyl. The surgical technician mentioned above had previously been fired after testing positive for a controlled substance, but he answered “no” on his job application as to whether he had ever been fired from employment as a surgical technician.[8] It is important to be aware, however, that even the most thorough background screening may not prevent fentanyl misappropriation in every instance. One of the pharmacy technicians under investigation for replacing fentanyl with saline solution passed a criminal background check and his reference check did not raise any red flags.[9]

[1] Katharine Q. Seelye, Heroin Epidemic is Yielding to a Deadlier Cousin: Fentanyl, N.Y. Times, March 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/26/us/heroin-fentanyl.html?_r=0.

[2] Id.

[3] Noelle Phillips, Nurse Accused of Stealing Fentanyl from Summit County Hospital, Denver Post, March 19, 2016, http://www.denverpost.com/2016/03/19/nurse-accused-of-stealing-fentanyl-from-summit-county-hospital/.

[4] Elizabeth Hernandez, Feds Arrest Swedish Medical Surgical Tech Accused of Stealing Drugs, Denver Post, February 16, 2016, http://www.denverpost.com/2016/02/16/feds-arrest-swedish-medical-surgical-tech-accused-of-stealing-drugs/.

[5] Lane Lyon, Former Rose Hospital Employee Admits to Needle Swapping, July 3, 2009,  http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/former-rose-hospital-employee-admits-to-needle-swapping.

[6] U.S. Attorney’s Office, Raymond Man Sentenced for Diverting Fentanyl at Exeter Hospital, August 29, 2014,  https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/boston/news/press-releases/raymond-man-sentenced-for-diverting-fentanyl-at-exeter-hospital.

[7] KSN-TV, Pharmacy Tech Swapped Fentanyl for Saline Solution, Hospital Says, October 27, 2016,  http://ksn.com/2016/10/27/pharmacy-tech-swapped-fentanyl-for-saline-solution-hospital-says/

[8] Elizabeth Hernandez, Feds Arrest Swedish Medical Surgical Tech Accused of Stealing Drugs, Denver Post, February 16, 2016, http://www.denverpost.com/2016/02/16/feds-arrest-swedish-medical-surgical-tech-accused-of-stealing-drugs/.

[9] KSN-TV, Pharmacy Tech Swapped Fentanyl for Saline Solution, Hospital Says, October 27, 2016,  http://ksn.com/2016/10/27/pharmacy-tech-swapped-fentanyl-for-saline-solution-hospital-says/

 

 

 

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