Health

What's Disappearing from Veterans' Hospitals Is Alarming

February 21st 2017

By:
Thor Benson

As highlighted by a recent Associated Press report, drugs have been disappearing from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals at an alarming rate, and federal authorities are finally stepping up efforts to investigate the thefts.

va hospital

There were 272 reports of drug theft at federal hospitals in 2009, and the number jumped to 2,926 in 2015, the AP reports. Though the number dipped slightly last year, with 2,457 reported thefts, the overall increase in just seven years represents a clear phenomenon. The report claims doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff are likely stealing drugs for their own use or to sell on the street, with the opioids oxycodone and hydrocodone among the most frequently stolen drugs. To address this problem, the inspector general’s office and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating VA hospitals.

Why it happens.

The phenomenon could be exacerbated by understaffing. As ATTN: has previously reported, the VA has had major problems with understaffing for years, a problem that could grow due to President Donald Trump's recent federal hiring freeze.

Dr. Sue Sisley, a physician who has worked with veterans for over 20 years and spent seven years in and out of the VA hospital system, told ATTN:, that understaffing can lead to less oversight when it comes to preventing drugs from slipping out of a hospital.

"They probably are understaffed, and that definitely makes it easier for addicts to get what they want," Sisley said.

Sisley also noted that the work environment at federal hospitals can cause employees to be at a higher risk for addiction.

hospital pharmacy

"Health professionals may be even more vulnerable to addictions, because they're around it all the time," she said. "It's just such easy access for them. Despite all the monitoring they've put in to try to limit access, addicts are very clever and creative people. That's one of their specialties: Being able to work around obstacles and get what they want."

She said that ideally, hospitals should have the resources to prevent drugs from being diverted, and that there is no reason drugs should be going missing if they're monitored and protected properly.

"We're just continuing to see negligence within the VA system that should have been rooted out a long time ago," Sisley said. "I don't see that stuff happening at regular hospitals."

The opioid epidemic.

One reason drugs are going missing at a higher rate than normal is that opioid abuse has grown immensely in recent years.

heroin needle

"The truth is that most of the people who are stealing probably aren't even using it for themselves, they're just stealing it and selling it, because the street drug price of opioids now is just so high. You could have a whole other full time income doing that," Sisley said.

The inspector general’s office and the DEA will attempt to root out the problem, and the AP claims the inspector general has over 100 open criminal probes connected to the VA. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is also planning a hearing to review what investigations have discovered so far.