Legal Addictive Drugs

Abuse of prescription opioid medications has reached massive heights in recent years and led to a healthcare crisis in the US. You might imagine that these drugs come from inappropriately shared prescriptions or are counterfeit drugs smuggled into the country from overseas, but there is another more sinister source of these addictive drugs: opioid clinical diversion. These are pills surreptitiously diverted from legitimate patients by healthcare providers looking to get high or make money on the black market.

Clinical diversion is a significant and unaddressed problem created when the very doctors, nurses, and pharmacists charged with caring for patients steal, misuse, or tamper with controlled substances. According to Robert Lord, co-founder of Protenus, an analytics platform that detects inappropriate activity in healthcare institutions, “Scale is the first problem health systems face in tackling this challenge.” Over 350 incidents were reported by news outlets in 2017, and we know that this represents only a fraction of what is uncovered by law enforcement or health systems.

The diverted controlled substances cause significant financial losses for the institution from which they are stolen, but that is only the beginning of the costs that result from the thefts. First, opioid diversion harms the most vulnerable patients who do not receive the pain medication they need. In one incident, two nurses stole over 900 opioid pills from their hospice patients, replacing the pills with Tylenol. This left terminally ill patients receiving end-of-life care without appropriate pain control. Second, opioid clinical diversion supports the drug trade and makes dangerous drugs available for abuse. One news outlet reported the case of a doctor who overdosed on a powerful sedative that he had stolen from an operating room following months of theft and drug abuse.

Experts are working to prevent clinical diversion of opioids and other controlled substances with security controls, inventory audits, and changes to workplace culture. Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) is offering a new approach to control this problem. By combining data from electronic health records, pharmacy systems, HR systems, and scheduling, AI can help separate the signal from the noise and recognize illegal diversion events. This comprehensive approach will help healthcare experts proactively and comprehensively address the problem of opioid clinical diversion. For more information about the opioid clinical diversion discussed here, visit the Forbes website.

Steps to Treat and Avoid Addiction

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