Preventing Drug Theft in Senior Living Communities

02/03/2020 Written by: Kristy Dickens

Sadly, drug theft is on the rise both in hospitals and in the long-term care community. Both environments have some degree of preventive measures in place to discourage drug theft or drug diversion, yet it is much easier to access medications – and steal them – in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other senior living care centers.
According to statistics from the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, “The average nursing home resident takes 6.7 routinely scheduled and 2.6 ‘as needed’ medications. In addition, 27% of long term care residents take nine or more routinely scheduled medications.” This means thousands of doses of medications can be found in the process of administration: delivery, storage, preparation, administration, and disposal - and these doses can be vulnerable to diversion.
Another aspect of the senior living environment that makes the diversion of medications much easier is that a percentage of the population being cared for suffers from one form of dementia or another. Such a resident is not likely to notice a missing medication upon occasion – or even routinely.
Aside from the potential impact of drug diversion on residents who are being deprived of their medications and the harm that can come to employees who divert medication, negative publicity can result if a drug diversion event becomes public information and the likelihood of survey citations is a near certainty. In a 2014 article featured in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, Susan LaGrange, RN, BSN, NHA writes, “F-431 Labeling of Drugs and Biologicals, which has popped up in the top 10 most frequently cited deficiencies, addresses the storage of drugs and biologicals to include safe and secure storage, limited access, and mechanisms to minimize loss or diversion.” Therefore, it is incumbent upon senior living care providers to safely and securely manage their medication administration process.
Unfortunately, the storage and distribution management of medications is an area in which many senior living communities find issues that make them susceptible to drug theft. Many care providers are now investing in technology that provides system security to safeguard access to residents’ medications such as automated dispensaries and security cameras. However, simple updates to policies and procedures that require accountability and provide additional oversight to the storage and administration process, suspicion-based and random drug testing, and careful employee screenings can also be part of an effective strategy to curb attempts at drug diversion.
Strict protocols for medication administration in senior living is good business. It results in better resident care, decreases the chances of medication-related survey deficiencies, and reduces liability exposure in a potentially vulnerable area of operations. If you have questions about how to improve your medication administration practices, consult with your organization’s pharmacy consultant or contact your AssuredPartners Senior Living team of insurance and risk management specialists.

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