Mass. General will pay $2.3 million to resolve allegations of drug diversion

MGH has agreed to pay $2.3 million to the government. –Steven Senne / AP

Massachusetts General Hospital has agreed to pay the U.S. government $2.3 million to resolve allegations that lax controls at the hospital allowed employees to divert controlled substances for personal use. The hospital also agreed to institute a corrective action plan to prevent and address future diversions.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement it is the largest settlement of its kind related to allegations of drug diversion at a hospital.

An investigation was launched in 2013 after MGH disclosed to the DEA that two nurses at the hospital stole almost 16,000 pills, mostly oxycodone, from an automated dispensing machine the hospital used to store prescription medications. MGH cooperated with the investigation, according to authorities, and an audit by the DEA of the hospital’s controlled substances found pill count discrepancies totalling over 20,000 missing or incomplete medication inventories, as well as hundreds of missing drug records.

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U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said hospitals like MGH have a responsibility to ensure controlled substances are used for patient care and not diverted for non-medical uses.

“Diversion of these drugs feeds addiction, contributes to potential illegal drug sales, and fuels the opioid epidemic that has had a devastating effect on the Commonwealth,’’ she said. “ We commend MGH for disclosing and addressing its diversion problems and for taking steps to ameliorate future diversion by hospital personnel.’’

Dr. Jean Elrick, MGH’s senior vice president for administration, said in a statement that drug diversion is a challenge for the healthcare industry nationally.

“We take that responsibility very seriously, and we were therefore dismayed at what we discovered through this investigation,’’ Elrick said. “While we are confident that no patients were harmed by this misconduct and that all patients in need were given the drugs they were prescribed, we apologize that we failed to recognize this issue earlier. We are committed to ensuring that this does not happen again in the future. All of the instances described in the report were self-reported.’’

Elrick said during the timeframe of the report the hospital relied on common industry drug diversion procedures and technology .

“It is clear, however, that the technology and processes that we and the industry relied upon were not adequate,’’ she said. “MGH is committed to implementing drug diversion controls that will make us the industry leader in surveillance and monitoring of controlled substances. The vast majority of the improvements described in our corrective action plan have already been implemented. As a result, the DEA and the Joint Commission now consider the MGH drug diversion program to be a best practice model that others in the industry may want to adopt.’’

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View the full settlement agreement here.

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