In nursing homes across the country, patients are losing their daily medications to staff with drug habits. For every case reported in the news, there are likely several more that are yet-undetected, putting patients at risk and under the care of staff that may be ill-equipped to handle their needs.
Several stories of nursing home prescription drug thefts have hit the news in recent weeks. In each, a nurse or staff member has stolen patient medications for their own use or to sell outside of the facility.
On April 21, the Lacrosse Tribune reported a registered nurse at Vernon Manor, a nursing home, had been arrested for suspicion of stealing patient medication. According to the sheriff’s department, investigators had been investigating the thefts for seven months.
The nurse stands accused of stealing Vicodin and Fentanyl, pain medications. She faces multiple drug charges that carry possible prison time.
On April 29, a similar story was reported at MLive.com. A North Muskegon, MI nursing home was the scene of another prescription theft. There, a registered nurse is accused of two felony charges for stealing morphine.
Finally, on April 30, WLKY reported a nursing home worker in Mount Washington, KY had been arrested for fueling her drug habit with residents’ medications.
The nurse had only been working in the facility a few days when other staff became suspicious. She insisted that she didn’t need someone to train her to dispense medication and wanted to do it alone after a week on the job. Staff noticed discrepancies the next day.
In five days, she allegedly stole 26 doses of narcotics by forging other nurses’ names and taking drugs that she claimed to have given to residents. In February, the same nurse was accused of “doctor shopping” to get prescription pain medications.
A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found 82.9% of a sample group of nursing home residents had chronic pain and 49.4% of them classified it as “persistent”. This pain can affect their mood, nutrition, sleep, and general health.
Pain medications like those reported as stolen in the above news reports are often the only relief that these residents receive. When these medications are withheld for whatever reason, it can amount to nursing home abuse.
In cases of nursing home medication abuse, the thefts or medication errors often aren’t discovered until they’ve been going on for quite some time. In many cases, elderly residents are unable to communicate their pain levels or are unaware that they haven’t received their medication. They depend wholly on nursing home staff to care for their needs and many of them simply trust the nurses would never intentionally hurt them.
Family members and friends of nursing home residents must be aware that prescription drugs are a hot commodity on the black market. Whether a nurse is using them or taking them elsewhere, a nursing home provides a “perfect” opportunity to get such drugs.
For those with loved ones in nursing homes, keeping a close eye on their moods and behaviors will help identify if their prescription drugs are being mismanaged. Being present when medications are doled out also provides an opportunity to see the staff in action, ask about various medications, and get an idea of how the medications are tracked.
It’s difficult to think that someone in the healthcare industry would harm a nursing home resident, let alone have a drug problem. With high-powered prescription painkillers being highly addictive and expensive, it’s entirely possible and quite likely more common than we realize.