Physical security plays key role in the fight against drug diversion

By Sam Auciello, Pasek Corp.

Drug diversion — the theft and use of drugs intended for patients by staff, visitors and others — has become a real issue for healthcare institutions, especially as the problem with prescription drug abuse rises.

It’s a multi-billion dollar problem, with drugs such as methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl and propofol among those being stolen from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Headlines in recent years have told of hospital workers such as nurses and technicians getting into what was once thought of as a secure environment – locked dosing machines – and accessing medications and substituting benign alternatives such as saline solution to mask the theft.

Fortunately, drugdiversion committees have been created within hospitals, working in conjunction with security staff members, to institute policies and procedures along with additional physical security measures to increase the security to safeguard controlled substances.

So where should a hospital or healthcare start to provide complete protection and security for their prescription medication? Taking a concentric circles approach to security, the pharmacy, from which the drugs are distributed, is the most likely source for the highest level of protection. At the pharmacy, a hospital can place limitations on who has access and implement several layers of security such as dual authentication biometric access control and cameras positioned in key areas where drugs are stored, prepared for distribution and returned or discarded.

Working out from there, hospitals have set up means to secure drug cabinets, either through standard lock-and-key protocols or more advanced methods such as fingerprint or badge-related access control. RFID technology on portable dispensing machines also allows for security to track the movement of the drugs through hallways and into various rooms. By being able to follow movement and access, healthcare facilities can create an audit trail in the event that something untoward occurs.

In addition to creating appropriate policies and procedures and instituting physical security measures, the hospital security director should review this information with their security systems integratorand healthcare staff to ensure everyone can be on the same page regarding the safe handling, distribution and monitoring of controlled substances.

Working as team, hospital personnel, security and their integrators can develop the right surveillance and access control plans to help enforce drug diversion best practices.