A police officer who has suffered a back injury begins to rely on prescription pain killers to get through the day. When his doctor will no longer refill his prescription, he talks a nurse into supplying him with stolen pain pills. This scenario from the hit cable television drama Southland reflects an everyday reality – many healthcare workers are diverting pain medication. Since most medical facilities store controlled drugs in locked cabinets, one of the most unfortunate aspects of drug diversion by healthcare workers is that medication is often stolen directly from patients.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency regulates the distribution of controlled substances in hospitals and medical centers. The majority of healthcare workers adhere to the DEA’s regulations, but some divert and abuse prescription drugs to relieve stress, reduce anxiety or improve work performance. What begins as self-medication can lead to a cycle of drug abuse and addiction.
Other healthcare workers divert prescription drugs to supply friends or family members or sell them for a profit.