Prescription Drug Diversion an Issue at VA Hospitals

Federal authorities are aiming investigative efforts at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers to curb an increase in drug diversion acts committed in some VA hospitals.

Federal authorities are aiming investigative efforts at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers to curb an increase in drug diversion acts committed in some VA hospitals, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Data from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review showed a significant jump in opioid theft, missing prescriptions, and unauthorized drug use by VA doctors, nurses, and pharmacy staff over the past 8 years. On February 27, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to address the findings from the report.

Reported incidents of missing or stolen prescription medications at federal hospitals increased drastically from 272 in 2009 to 2457 in 2016 — most of the crimes were committed by employees diverting controlled substances for personal use or street sales, according to the article. The VA’s federal hospital networks includes more than 1100 facilities, as well as 7 correctional hospitals and 20 hospitals that serve Indian tribes.

In February, 3 VA pharmacy employees were arrested for stealing and distributing controlled substances on the street. The defendants allegedly distributed prescription pills worth more than $160,000 street value and cost the VA more than $77,000.

“I am concerned that VA’s controlled substance oversight program is not working and that staff who fail to follow proper procedures are not being held accountable for violations,” Chairman Rep. Jack Bergman stated in his opening remarks at the hearing.

The GAO review identified weaknesses in several VA facilities’ controlled substance inspection programs. Problems pointed to gaps in monthly inspections of drug stocks and lax hospital oversight in tracking drug supplier, as well as failure to conduct pre-employment drug testing. The data has prompted deeper scrutiny of drug crimes committed at VA hospitals, and the inspector general’s office acknowledges roughly 100 currently-open criminal probes involving theft or loss of VA narcotics.

According to AP, the report discovered that most missed inspections occurred at the Washington DC- area hospitals, where monthly checks were missed more than 40% of the time in critical care patient areas. Other problems were found in VA hospitals nationwide, in which multiple incidents occurred involving lost or unaccounted for controlled substances.

Chairman Bergman concluded in his opening statement, “We are in the midst of an opioid epidemic, and it is time for VA to start making effective changes to avoid putting veterans and the employees who serve them at risk.”


VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Ensure Medical Facility Controlled Substance Inspection Programs Meet Agency Requirements. GAO-17-242: Feb 15, 2017.

Chairman Bergman Opening Statement [news release]. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ website. Accessed Feb. 28, 2017.

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