Amid opioid epidemic, report finds more doctors stealing prescriptions

Report: Doctors stealing more prescriptions

Last Updated May 6, 2019 8:08 PM EDT

When Lauren Lollini went to the hospital for kidney surgery in 2009, she was shocked when she left with hepatitis C and a liver infection.

"My life dramatically changed because now I am a 40-year-old woman with a 1-year-old daughter who is so fatigued I can't work," Lollini said.

Hospital technician Kristen Parker had infected Lollini and at least 18 others by stealing their pain medication and then leaving contaminated syringes for reuse. She's now serving 30 years in jail.

"She was taking them off surgical trays, using them for herself, her own use, and then filling them with saline and putting them back on trays," Lollini said. "I really was angry at the broken system. The hospital that hired her — unbeknownst to them that she had been let go from other jobs."

A new report that will be released Tuesday by data firm Protenus finds that this so-called "opioid diversion" is a growing problem. In 2018, more than 47 million doses of legally prescribed opioids were stolen, an increase of 126 percent from the year before.

Protenus found 34 percent of these incidents happened at hospitals or medical centers, followed by private practices, long-term care facilities and pharmacies. Only 77 percent of the cases identified a particular drug, but the most common was Oxycodone, followed by hydrocodone and fentanyl.

Sixty-seven percent of the time, doctors and nurses are responsible. Dr. Stephen Loyd of Tennessee was one of them.

"What I didn't realize was how quickly it would escalate. Going from that half of a five milligram Lortab, to within three years about 500 milligrams of Oxycontin a day. That's about 100 Vicodin," he said.

For three and a half years, he siphoned drugs away from his patients.

"There was no requirements on what happened to those pills. They could go down the toilet or they could go in my pocket," Loyd said.

He warns that people who work in the health care industry are at high risk of abuse.

"They've got high stress jobs. A lot of them, like myself, have workaholism. And not only that, you have access," Loyd said.

He's now been clean for 15 years and was the director of Tennessee's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services division before running a rehab facility in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Loyd implores addicted health care workers to admit they need help, which he knows was the hardest part for him until he was confronted by his own father.

After confessing to his dad fears of losing his house, car and career should he come clean, his father responded, "None of those things are gonna do you any good if you're dead."

Kira Caban of Protenus said the firm's findings are likely a "tip of the iceburg" considering only a fraction of opioid diversions are uncovered because an addict admits to the behavior or a patient gets sick. The Department of Justice established an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit to combat this issue, but it's operational in less than a third of the country.