Slowly, more data is being gathered on one of the dark corners of the opioid crisis: The millions of pills that go missing from hospitals, treatment center and pharmacies.
Yet there is little evidence that data is being used to address the problem of “drug diversions,” a mealy mouthed euphemism for thefts. What’s more, the information is being shared with the public reluctantly, and without context.
Last year, a special report by Salem News reporter Julie Manganis revealed that millions of doses of painkillers were disappearing from hospital and pharmacies across the country, deepening the nation’s opioid crisis. Manganis’ report revealed numerous incidents in Massachusetts where more than 100 pills were stolen. In one case, a pharmacy technician from Salem has been charged with stealing more than 18,000 pills, mostly opioids, from Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals.
Now, a new report from the state Board of Registration in Pharmacy has revealed there were at least 543 complaints of “drug losses, record-keeping discrepancies and drug diversions” at drugstores and pharmacies across the state between 2013 and 2018. The thefts came from operations as large as Walgreens and Stop & Shop and as small as your neighborhood pharmacy. There were 93 complaints filed last year alone.
“There’s a lot more attention being paid to the problem, which is leading to the increase in reported violations,” Tom Brown, executive director of the Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association told reporter Christian Wade. “For controlled substances, pharmacies have to count every pill every 10 days, so when they find a discrepancy between have and should have, they have to report it.”
Unfortunately, the state’s willingness to share information stops there. Details of the investigations into the drug diversions weren’t disclosed, and state officials wouldn’t talk about the report.
Their silence is unacceptable. Were they to show real leadership, state officials would be explaining the data to the public and searching for ways to stem the flow of pills out of hospitals and pharmacies and into the hands of those struggling with addiction.
“Clearly we need to tighten up the system,” state Sen. Joan Lovely said. “The technology exists to track medicine from the manufacturer to the point-of-sale, so why are people still able to divert these heavily addictive drugs to the street?”
It’s a good question, and one state officials should be answering, instead of offering information without context.