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What is Narcotic Diversion?

April 1, 2022 DEA Defense Lawyers

Prescription drugs that medical professionals, executives, and staff members allow to fall into the hands of unauthorized users can create severe penalties for failure to prevent diverting narcotics. As a form of prescription drug fraud, narcotic drug diversion ranks high on the federal government’s list of enforcement priorities.

Understanding the Consequences
Penalties may require exorbitant fines in the thousands of dollars and many years in prison. The Department of Justice (DOJ) cites providing a medication prescription to anyone other than the intended patient as a diversion of narcotics. The theft of drugs from secure locations registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as medical facilities can create an offense. In addition, forging a prescription or writing a fraudulent one violates federal law. The physical dependence on addictive substances and the potential for financial gain make the demand for drugs high. Not surprisingly, it increases the likelihood of narcotic drug diversion.

Identifying Indications of Diversion
Medical practices and health care facilities run a greater risk of narcotic drug diversion than other establishments, and visible signs may provide alerts to a problem. For example, patients who complain of inadequate pain relief, discrepancies in inventory count and missing prescription pads may indicate a need for vigilance. Other indicators of potential problems may include reluctance by patients to report medical history. Faking symptoms to obtain access to drugs may raise concerns. Further, employees who have a dependence on drugs may demonstrate behavior patterns such as changes in job performance, attendance issues and isolation from others.

Alertness in observing behaviors and prompt response can help prevent health consequences and mitigate criminal prosecution. Facilities at risk of violation of federal law may implement prevention policies that become effective as soon as needed.

Reducing Risk Exposure
Successful narcotic drug diversion prevention includes physical control of drugs, a training program for staff, treatment protocol and policies that discourage negligence. In addition, prompt action can safeguard your business against consequences that may include health care fraud investigations, audits, inspections and subpoenas.

With recognition of the demand for relief from chronic pain by a significant proportion of the general population, authoritative medical organizations offer guidelines that prevent abuse. However, they also acknowledge the extensive and complex problems that face medical professionals who dispense prescriptions.

When patients receive highly addictive drugs unnecessarily, the consequences for providers can reach serious proportions. A recommended practice focuses on thorough patient care that allows doctors and nurses to ask probing questions to confirm prescription needs. Consequently, the approach may help prevent drug diversion by patients and medical staff.

Protecting prescription pads against theft and the potential for forgery requires securing them under lock and key. Further efforts that thwart misuse include not signing blank prescription forms. In addition, leaving the details of a prescription out of a patient’s chart can contribute to security that physicians and practice managers may use to improve safety. Finally, communication with local pharmacies can establish guidelines that eliminate conditions that allow drug diversion to occur.

Understanding the Seriousness of Drug Diversion
A joint task force between the DOJ and the DEA focuses on suspected health care providers who engage in narcotic drug diversion. Investigations proceed quickly, allowing little time to defend against charges. Even when the task force finds no evidence of narcotic drug diversion, your practice can experience disruptions in conducting business and delivering patient care. The earliest intervention you can provide can help mount a strategic defense that presents the facts and circumstances that represent you aggressively, accurately and fairly.

Seeking Legal Representation
The attorneys at Spodek Law Group, P.C. offer a complimentary consultation that provides information about responding to a prescription drug fraud investigation. We have extensive experience in health care fraud law defense.

Narcotic diversion is considered prescription drug fraud. It occurs when someone illegally supplies a controlled substance to another party. For example, someone who works in a pharmacy may steal painkillers to sell to another individual who sells them on the street. A patient with a prescription may fill it and sell the pills to someone else. Alternately, someone may forge a prescription and have it filled.

Common Prescription Drugs That Are Abused

Opioids are the most common drugs involved in diversion. These are some examples of controlled substances that are commonly abused:

  • Lomotil
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Meperidine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Methadone

There are others as well. Also, some of the drugs above are available in different formulations or names.

Is Narcotic Diversion a Serious Crime?

Narcotic diversion is a serious federal offense that comes with strict penalties. As the United States continues to see more deaths and addiction treatment costs tied to opioids, government agencies are encouraging stricter penalties for both medical establishments and patients who supply others with opioids or other narcotics. One of the reasons why they focus heavily on opioids is because of how addictive and dangerous they are.

Many states also have laws in place to punish people who supply opioids. For example, in some states, if someone supplies another person with opioids that the individual dies from, the supplier can be charged with homicide. Health care providers can face other charges in addition to diversion if people are harmed. The CDC and health departments throughout the country investigate cases of narcotic diversion and HCV, bacterial or other infections associated with diversion. Suppliers in establishments can be prosecuted.

Addressing Risks of Narcotic Diversion

There is a growing problem of medical establishments being tied to diversion cases. Doctors, pharmacists, administrators and others who are responsible for overseeing medication distribution must be especially vigilant and ensure that multiple safeguards are in place to address risks.

First, it is important to understand the two main reasons for diversion, which are financial gain or personal use. These are some potential signs of narcotic diversion for financial gain:

  • Missing prescription pads.
  • Inconsistent or incorrect medication counts.
  • Medication order changes.
  • Higher volume of inadequate pain relief reports in patients.
  • An unusual number of medication error reports involving narcotics.
  • Large amounts of narcotic waste reported.
  • Various discrepancies involving narcotics when a specific person is working.

Some of the above points may apply when an individual is taking medications for personal use. If a person is taking narcotics to use, these are some signs of addiction or abuse to look for:

  • Change in job performance.
  • Mood swings or major behavior changes.
  • Frequent tardiness, trips to the bathroom or breaks.
  • Isolation from colleagues and acting withdrawn.
  • Continually making mistakes.

When anyone is taking medications from a medical establishment for financial or personal gain, the establishment can face serious repercussions. To limit liabilities and risks, it is important to review current safety measures and look for areas of improvement. For example, keeping cameras in rooms where narcotics are stored may discourage theft. Physicians should keep a close count of all prescription pads or use pads with sequential numbers. If mistakes are made while writing a prescription, the paper should be shredded and not thrown in the trash. Locking away extra prescription pads is important. Additionally, it is important to write a “0” or an allowable number of refills instead of leaving the refill space blank.

Dealing With a Narcotic Diversion Investigation

If your facility is under investigation for narcotic diversion, it is important to have an attorney who understands applicable laws on your side. Dealing with the DOJ or DEA is not something that any medical establishment should attempt alone. Our attorneys have handled many federal drug fraud cases and have helped medical establishments through investigation processes. Whether you need help through an investigation or are facing charges, we are here for you. Please contact us for a consultation.



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