Narc on your lazy drug procedures!

May 24, 2016
Kathryn Primm, DVM
Kathryn Primm, DVM

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, but has a growing career as a writer, a speaker and an online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike.

Inventory management can be boring. Drug theft and abuse or resale of controlled substances from your veterinary practice is not. Are your managers and team members doing everything they can to protect you from the crime, the guilt and the mistrust that can come with drug theft?

Hey! You! Stop that! (Photo Getty Images)I thought narcotic theft at my veterinary practice was unlikely, but I learned the hard way that no one is immune. Because of my recent issue, I had to learn a lot and “on the spot.” Here are some starting points for the next time a manager or practice owner calls on you to help sort through a possible controlled drug theft:

Count and count again

First, double-check your inventory numbers to be sure a mistake wasn't made with the shipment or checking in. (If you don't already have inventory controls in place, now's a good time to implement them.)

Your veterinary software includes an inventory management module that places orders. (You use that, right?) Then when items are delivered, they're checked into inventory. One team member double-checks the shipment for accuracy, another checks the items into the computer system, creating at least one layer of “checks and balances.” At my practice, a third person is responsible for putting controlled substances inside the locked safe.

Follow the rules

Be sure you're compliant with state and federal regulations for counting, securing and reporting of narcotic drugs. If you follow those rules, it's readily apparent when someone steals medication.

Many controlled medications have a street value as well as addictive properties, so they're all in danger of being taken. We noticed very rapidly that there was a discrepancy and were able to narrow it down to a time period of just a few hours when the medication went missing. Once you verify the drug was delivered, a good next step is to empty shelves of all other pharmacy items to make sure it wasn't misplaced. We checked the trash and refrigerator, just in case.

Report the theft

Drug abuse and addiction in the veterinary workplace

There is a dangerous, sometimes fatal paradox at the heart of our veterinary profession. First, veterinarians experience far higher than average levels of workplace stress, depression and suicidal ideation, and they have increased access to potentially addictive and deadly drugs. That said, little drug testing is conducted in veterinary workplaces, drug control procedures are relatively lax, and employee assistance programs are few and far between. Vulnerability and access lead to a high risk of abuse and addiction in the veterinary workplace.

Are we recognizing the danger of this paradox-mental health problems and access to drugs-that puts our colleagues in harm's way? And will we do something about it? Read more ... 

When you verify the medication theft, contact your local police department. You will also involve the Drug Enforcement Agency (you'll need to fill out DEA Form 106). Because many controlled substance thefts are internal, your team members need to know you may require drug testing if a drug theft occurs.

The best way to manage drug theft, of course, is to prevent it in the first place. Help your management team review all protocols now to ensure the right people will be alerted quickly in the event of missing drugs. Consider:

> a double-locked narcotic safe

> an inventory check-in process with more than one person signing off on each step

> a regular accounting of stock

> a procedure for exactly which team members fill (and double-check) controlled prescriptions.

Missing medication creates a huge stress for your team members. Everyone feels mistrust and suspicion. Make sure your team-and your bosses-do all they can to protect your clinic family and anyone who could be harmed by the misuse of your drugs.

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns and practices at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People.