Yesterday the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the increase in drug theft and use at VA facilities. Both the VA’s inspector general (OIG) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) have raised concerns about VA’s lack of oversight on opioids and the susceptibility of mail-order prescriptions to theft. The hearings’ panel included representatives from the VA, OIG and GAO as well as the Chair of the Mayo Clinic’s Enterprise-wide Medication Diversion Prevention Committee.
Background checks and random drug testing are crucial. The GAO found recently that the Atlanta VA Medical Center failed to administer drug tests for a period of six months. Additionally, the Atlanta facility had a massive backlog of about 200 employee background checks that had yet to be completed. This lack of oversight is dangerous for a few reasons. One, by not administering a background check immediately and completely, the VA may be allowing those with drug-related histories into dangerous roles. Two, the VA will not know if employees are diverting drugs for their own use if they aren’t following drug-testing protocol.
As Dr. Berge of the Mayo Clinic stated, good policies aren’t enough, the procedures have to be “rigorously followed” to truly combat drug diversion. He continued that theft will occur when vulnerabilities are found in hospital drug procedure, so following drug policy is vital to closing those gaps.
Given the reported increase in drug theft and illegal use, it’s clear that opioid policy is not being properly followed. Stricter oversight is necessary for VA staff nationwide and accountability measures for staff who break protocol.