Prescription Opioid Theft Spikes Among Medical Staff

By Lindsey Weedston 05/13/19

The new report found that 67% of prescription opioid thefts are by doctors and nurses.

doctor preparing to steal a bottle of prescription opioids

A new report found a 126% increase in the theft of opioid prescriptions by doctors and other medical professionals from 2017 to 2018, according to CBS News.

This problem has directly harmed patients who were prescribed opioid painkillers following surgery or injury, and the report’s authors are warning that their findings are merely the “tip of the iceberg.”

Lauren Lollini told CBS News about contracting hepatitis C from syringes contaminated by a hospital technician who used them to take the opioids prescribed to Lollini. The tech then refilled the syringes with saline and left them for the patient to use.

As a result, Lollini went home from her kidney surgery with a liver infection and 10 years later is unable to work due to chronic fatigue.

"I really was angry at the broken system,” she said. “The hospital that hired her—unbeknownst to them that she had been let go from other jobs."

The technician is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for her crimes.

The report also found that 67% of these thefts are by doctors and nurses. Dr. Stephen Loyd of Tennessee described how he got hooked on the opioid pills that were incredibly easy for him to steal.

"There was no requirements on what happened to those pills. They could go down the toilet or they could go in my pocket," he said. This went on for three-and-a-half years.

When diverted drugs could be identified, it was found that the most commonly stolen drug was oxycodone, followed by hydrocodone (Vicodin) and fentanyl. Overall, 47 million opioid doses were stolen in 2018 alone. 

A report published in Drug Diversion Digest in September 2018 by the same analytics company found that healthcare employee theft of prescription medications in general cost healthcare organizations $162 million in the space of six months, with nearly 95% of cases involving at least one type of opioid.

This report also expressed that their findings were only the tip of the iceberg due to the fact that they were only able to research cases where the thefts were discovered.

Dr. Loyd, who now runs a rehab center, believes that the high rate of opioid diversion is largely due to the high stress of medical professions. That plus easy access to the drugs create a recipe for drug misuse and addiction.

"They've got high stress jobs. A lot of them, like myself, have workaholism. And not only that, you have access," Loyd explained.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: