Nurses at two separate nursing homes were recently charged with stealing their own patients' pain medication. In one story, a nurse was reported to have stolen medicine for her own use. She was charged with injuring the patient by exploitation. Read about the charges. In the second case, a nurse was charged with stealing a 79 year-old patient's morphine. The nurse admitted to the facility's administration that codeine and morphine would be found in her system if she was drug tested. Read about the case of the missing morphine.
How much worse does it get than for nursing home or assisted living facility staff to steal their own patients' pain medicine? When staff steals narcotics that are to be administered to patients, "narcotic diversion" is said to have occurred. If staff diverts narcotics for personal use, the facility has a drug addict for an employee and the patient has a drug addict as a care provider. If staff diverts narcotics for sale on the street, the facility has a drug pusher for an employee and the patient has a drug dealer as a care provider. In both cases, patients do not receive pain medication they need, resulting in preventable pain.
I recently represented the daughter of a patient who injured her hand when she was improperly transferred from a gerichair to her bed. The patient was prescribed narcotics to relieve pain caused by the hand injury. When we reviewed the nursing home's records, we learned the patient seldom actually received the narcotics that were removed by nurses from her inventory of pills at the facility. For months, nursing home staff documented they removed narcotics several times daily from that inventory, but seldom documented the patient ever received the medication -- proof of narcotic diversion. Once we broke the news to the nursing home, the case settled for a substantial sum.
Narcotic diversion always creates more questions for me than it answers: how long had staff been stealing medications? How many other staff were also stealing medications? How many patients didn't receive the pain medicines they needed? How much other care at the nursing home or assisted living facility wasn't being provided or provided well because of substance abuse problems among staff? Stories like those above may be just the tip of a very, very large iceberg.
Posted on Fri, January 18, 2008
by Robert Carter