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Minnesota Health Officials Close Drug-Handling Loopholes in Attempt to Reduce Theft


Hospitals and state licensing boards in Minnesota are teaming up to try to cut down on drug thefts in hospitals and nursing homes. A coalition organized by the Minnesota Hospital Association and state Health Department is trying to close loopholes in drug-handling procedures in order to make it more difficult to steal drugs.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, opioids such as fentanyl or oxycodone are the most commonly stolen prescription drugs. The Associated Press (AP) reports that in one recent case, a Minneapolis nurse anesthetist was accused of stealing most of the painkillers that were meant for a patient undergoing kidney stone surgery.

To track drugs, many facilities use software linked to password-protected medication cabinets known as automated dispensing units, which can show high-use patterns by particular employees. When a nurse enters a password, a list of patients appears, along with their medications. The nurse selects a medication, and a drawer pops open. If a drug comes in a larger quantity than the patient’s dose, the unused portion must be disposed of. The article notes that many hospitals require that nurses must have a co-worker verify that they witnessed this disposal.

At St. Cloud Hospital, a nurse used a syringe to steal a painkiller from IV bags, causing infections. To prevent this from happening again, the hospital has instituted measures including putting tamper-resistant caps over the ports where medication is added. At Benedictine Health Systems, bound notebooks with numbered pages are used to document medication, so that missing pages would quickly become obvious.

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