CDC: Drug Diversion Harming Patients Across the United States

First Posted: Jun 02, 2014 07:14 PM EDT

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, "drug diversion" - or the stealing of patients' drugs by health care providers - has harmed a great number of patients in the last ten years.

The CDC's report, "Outbreaks of Infections Associated With Drug Diversion by US Health Care Personnel," found that various infectious outbreaks have occurred due to the stealing or tampering of patients' medications. The CDC identified six outbreaks in hospitals over a 10-year period, which resulted in hepatitis C infections as well as bloodstream bacterial infections.

"Patient harm stemming from diverting injectable drugs can include patients not obtaining adequate pain management, exposure to substandard care from an impaired provider, and exposure to life-threatening infections," according to study co-authors Melissa K. Schaefer, MD, and Joseph F. Perz, DrPH, of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC, Atlanta, GA, in the report.

Due to drug diversion, over 30,000 medical patients in the United States have been exposed to bloodborne or bacterial pathogens since 2004, and the frequency of these occurrences has been on the rise. As a result, the report suggests that health care facilities should enforce strong narcotics security measures and maintain active monitoring systems because appropriate responses are essential in the event someone tampers with medications.

Part of the CDC's website is dedicated to detailing the risks of healthcare-associated infections as a result of drug diversion. Patients can be harmed in a number of ways, which include receiving substandard care from an impaired healthcare provider, being denied essential pain medication or therapy, and being exposed to a higher risk of infection.

In one of the cases examined by the CDC, 84 patients were infected with the hepatitis C virus after syringes or vials containing fentanyl - a pain medication for cancer patients - were tampered with. The study's authors hope that the outbreaks they shed light on will help raise awareness on the drug diversion issue.

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