Prescription Drugs Still Vanishing at VA Hospitals

If you are in need of prescription opiates, make your way to the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital. Not because VA hospitals prescribe opiates to anybody for any reason, even when it is very bad and dangerous to do so—though they do that, too—but because VA hospitals do a very bad job at stopping employees from stealing armloads of the stuff.

In February, the Associated Press discovered that opiates are going missing from VA hospitals at double the rate private hospital employees are swiping prescription pain pills. In response, the VA announced a “zero tolerance” policy, putting the doctors, nurses and other staffers at its nearly 1,200 medical centers and clinics around the country on notice… who then starting stealing even more.

As the AP reported on Tuesday, another 36 criminal investigations into pill theft were opened between Oct. 1 and May 19 of this year, “an increase from a similar period” the year before.

There are a few reasons why VA hospitals are more susceptible to theft than private hospitals. One reason that cannot be discounted is that VA hospitals are a mess, a biblical mess.

There are a few select classes of people in America for whom universal, state-funded healthcare is a reality.

Among them are members of Congress, who are conspiring to remove healthcare from 23 million Americans, and veterans of the U.S. military, whose reward for risking life and losing limb for their country is the Veterans Affairs hospital system. If you are a military veteran elected to Congress, suffice it to say that you switch your healthcare provider very quickly.

At one VA hospital in Washington, D.C., conditions are so bad that the 98,000 patients who rely on it are in “imminent danger” thanks to expired equipment, missing equipment and other serious health and safety violations.

Prescription pills are stocked in vast quantities, in large part because they are handed out to veterans like free AOL trial CDS—do you like my topical reference? [Editor’s Note: My previous job was at AOL, so yes, yes I do like it.]—who oftentimes receive their pain pills via the mails.

Thus, VA hospitals have massive stockpiles of opiates, which routinely fly out the door.

The embarrassment here, of course, is that the thefts grew worse after the VA vowed its zero-tolerance policy and instituted some theft controls, including employee drug-testing and more frequent inspections.

Reported instances of drug theft from VA hospitals increased from 237 in 2009, back when the opiate crisis was merely limited to pill mills, to 2,844 in 2015, well into the era of fentanyl-laced heroin. As the AP reported, VA employees have been disciplined in only three percent of the thefts.

The VA may have at least some plausible deniability.

According to an IT specialist who works for the agency, the VA does a terrible job of tracking legitimate opiate shipments as they come in. Shipments can be lost or waylaid in transit, and sometimes shipments from pharmaceutical companies are not properly inventoried—meaning, in theory, drugs are reported missing that were never there in the first place.

All this to say that the country got into this mess because of its freewheeling attitude with powerful, sometimes deadly, almost always habit-forming pills—and nobody is going to take away our freedoms.

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