More Diversion Cases and WCF’s Opioid & Fentanyl Abuse Management Summit

June 10, 2024By Larry K. Houck

It seems as though we cannot get through a week without hearing about controlled substance diversion by employees at another hospital or healthcare facility.

We learned this week that Palomar Health, one of California’s largest healthcare districts, agreed to pay $250,000 to resolve allegations that numerous vials of fentanyl had been diverted from automated medication dispensing machines over a five-month period and that the hospital did not properly dispose of unused fentanyl.  Palomar Health self-disclosed to DEA that one of its employees may have diverted the fentanyl.  The hospital also “entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the DEA requiring Palomar Health to undertake additional measures to increase security, implement specialized training, and to handle controlled substances properly and safely.”  DEA, Palomar Hospital Pays $250,000 for Diverting Fentanyl (June 3, 2024).

We also became aware that First Choice Surgical, an ambulatory surgical center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, agreed to pay $125,000 to resolve allegations it failed to maintain complete and accurate records and failed to provide effective controls to guard against theft and diversion of controlled substances.  Employees discovered in August 2019 that a registered nurse removed fentanyl from vials, replaced fentanyl with saline, and returned the vials to storage.  The nurse pled guilty to charges related to the theft and was sentenced to five years of probation.  An investigation also identified 130 separate occasions in which the surgical center allegedly violated recordkeeping requirements and failed to timely report the fentanyl theft to DEA after learning about it.  DOJ, Iowa Surgical Center Agrees to Pay $125,000 to Resolve Allegations It Violated the Controlled Substances Act (June 4, 2024).

Recent employee diversion of significant controlled substance quantities from hospitals and healthcare facilities has resulted in large civil monetary settlements, some in the millions of dollars, and the undertaking of costly compliance remediation to resolve allegations.  Controlled substances are a necessary component in providing needed medical care to patients, and recent employee diversion incidents illustrate the continued vulnerability of hospitals.  Hospitals that are non-compliant and fail to fulfill their controlled substance obligations pose serious health risks to patients for undertreatment and to employees for overdose and death.  Employee diversion can result in unwanted local and national publicity.

I will be presenting “Hospital/Healthcare Facility Controlled Substance Diversion,” focusing on this timely topic, at the World Conference Forum’s 2024 Opioid & Fentanyl Abuse Management Summit in Chicago on July 12th.  Attendees will learn:

  • How employees diverted significant controlled substance quantities in some high-profile cases
  • Red flags that were missed
  • Safeguards to minimize internal diversion risks
  • Best practices for maximizing diversion detection

Click here to learn more about the Opioid & Abuse Management Summit.