ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Assisted living centers in North Carolina are trying to stop pills meant for residents from being stolen
The State Bureau of Investigation has 11 agents that focus on investigating doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care workers that divert prescription drugs from patients, SBI spokeswoman Noelle Talley said.
“We’d estimate that at least 20 percent of drug cases worked by SBI field agents now involve prescription drugs,” Talley told the Citizen-Times of Asheville.
Talley said painkillers are the most frequently stolen drugs.
Asheville and Buncombe County have combined to create a unit to investigate drug diversion cases. Agent Ken Razza said he investigated 20 cases in the first seven month of 2013, compared to 17 cases all of last year. He said the actual number of incidents is likely much higher.
“Conservatively, I’d say it’d be twice as many cases,” Razza said. “That’s not counting home health care providers, or those diversions from traveling nurses, and there’s no supervision of those nurses. Those medications are kept in the open.”
Assisted living homes are putting procedures in place to stop the thefts. At Aston Park Skilled Nursing Facility in Asheville, only licensed nurses dispense drugs. Stronger painkillers are kept in a locked container with the medicine only distributed by an off-site pharmacist via computer. Two nurses must be present when the medicine is dispensed, said Karen Young, director of nursing
“Our nurses have to sign out every pill, and (the transaction) is bar coded and scanned at every point,” Young said.
Henry Hensley, a 56-year-old with multiple sclerosis and dealing with the pain from an old gunshot wound suffered while serving in the military, has lived in six assisted living facilities in the past 10 years. He said he had one worker sell his pain medicine for crack cocaine and another worker steal four days of medicine.
“Every place I’ve been, they’ve stolen my medicine,” said Hensley, who added he hasn’t had trouble in his current home.
Hensley said he suffered for other people’s addictions and wants to see stricter enforcement and sentences for medical workers who steal drugs.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been through withdrawal,” he said.