Drug Diversion: Healthcare’s Hidden Epidemic


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – The opioid epidemic is so severe that Americans are now more likely to die of an opioid overdose than a car crash. But there’s a contributing factor to the crisis that some claim is vastly under-reported.

That problem is called drug diversion. It’s when healthcare workers divert those powerful painkillers from patients or hospital inventory for their own use. A new report released Tuesday explores the seriousness of drug diversion. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller spoke to a man who got caught up in it and now urges better policies to prevent it.

It’s called “Healthcare’s Hidden Epidemic”: a new report questioning just how many medical professionals are getting their hands on opioids for their personal use. When asked via Skype how big a problem drug diversion is in hospital settings across the U.S., Rodrigo Garcia said, “Diversion can take a lot of different forms” adding that “it’s very pervasive throughout the hospital.”  

Mr. Garcia who is CEO of Parkdale Center for Professionals in Illinois shares his own story of drug diversion. He was a chief nurse anesthetist in 2010 when he broke his ankle. Prescribed opioids for the pain, he became hooked and fed his addiction with waste medication; a portion of pain killing meds left over from a patient’s vial. “Diversion in my case would occur when instead of taking the medication and disposing of it, I would take it for self use… mostly to reduce the withdrawal symptoms that I was having from my prescription medication,” said Mr. Garcia.

More than 650 health care executives and providers were surveyed for the new report. While 85 percent were concerned about drug diversion only 20 percent believe it’s a cause of concern where they work. Mr. Garcia said, “People aren’t looking for it. They’re not necessarily looking for those specific parts of it of the waste medication. If the paperwork adds up and the account at the end of the day adds up then there’s no reason to look for it.”

Mr. Garcia’s drug abuse cost him his job. Now clean for several years, he points to the new report on drug diversion as a wake-up call. It cites 78 percent of those surveyed knowing a peer who is stressed to the breaking point and 50 percent who have witnessed suspicious activity. “We have to prevent it and help with education and get better techniques on how to identify it earlier,” said Mr. Garcia.

Parkdale Center for Professionals offers addiction treatment to people including those in the grasp of drug diversion.

Read the report- 

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