Government data obtained by The Associated Press show more cases of opioid drug theft or missing prescriptions at Veterans Affairs health facilities despite new prevention efforts. The VA inspector general's office opened 36 new criminal investigations into possible drug theft from Oct. 1 to May 19. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff in the VA's network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics are suspected of siphoning away controlled substances for their own use or street sale — sometimes to the harm of patients.
The number of newly opened criminal probes is on track to match or surpass the figure in the previous year. In February, the VA pledged "zero tolerance" in drug thefts.
Some recently prosecuted cases:
A registered nurse in the Spinal Cord Injury Ward at the VA medical center in Richmond was sentenced to four months' home detention and three years' probation after admitting to stealing 20 to 30 oxycodone 5 milligram tablets and 8 to 10 fentanyl patches from VA medication dispensers. The nurse said she would sometimes shortchange the amount of pain medication prescribed to patients, taking the remainder to satisfy her addiction.
A staff nurse at the Murfreesboro VA medical center was sentenced to 2 years' probation after pleading no contest to charges of fraudulently obtaining controlled substances. The IG's investigation found the nurse on at least 18 occasions took for her personal use oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and lorazepam that were intended for Community Living Center geriatric patients.
An employee at the VA medical center in Long Beach was sentenced to three years in prison for selling heroin onsite to an undercover officer on multiple occasions. An investigation by the IG as well as law enforcement authorities determined the employee and others had been improperly selling oxycodone, Percocet, fentanyl and other drugs at the medical center. Separately in Livermore, a VA medical center employee was sentenced to 3 years' probation after admitting that he stole narcotics from the U.S. Postal Service. While investigating the possible theft of prescription medication packages, the IG's office observed the VA employee at his work desk smashing pills into powder form that he then inhaled.
A licensed nurse at the Columbia VA medical center was sentenced to five years' probation and five years' prison time after pleading guilty to stealing more than 340 controlled substances for her personal use over a period of six months.
Sources: Justice Department and VA inspector general's office