JEFFERSON HILLS (KDKA) -- Jefferson Hospital is being sued by more than a dozen patients who say they didn't receive much-needed pain medication because a hospital employee was stealing the drugs.
It happened five years ago, but the lawsuit was just filed on Wednesday. It claims the hospital failed to follow its own procedures for administering oxycodone.
The patients in question were in the grips of severe, unbearable pain from things like cancer, surgery or joint replacement. But they never got the relief their doctors prescribed.
"Some of the patients had late-stage cancer, including bone cancer, which is extremely painful, amputees, others were in for knee or hip replacement surgery. People in really severe pain," said attorney Jennifer Webster.
The lawsuit claims a pharmacy technician was stealing the patients' oxycodone and replacing it with similar looking pills, sometimes thyroid medication.
"We want to send a message to the hospital: if you've not already done so, this has to be corrected so that this never happens again to any other patients," attorney Alan Perer said.
The former pharmacy tech is identified as Cheryl Ashcraft. She's accused of stealing hundreds of oxycodone pills meant for patients in pain. She pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to six to 12 months in jail.
Evidence showed that controlled substance logs weren't signed off by a pharmacist as hospital policy required. Ashcraft's initials were on the log, but the box for the pharmacist to sign was left blank.
"You go and you trust the hospital to take care of you and something like this is happening, and it's not just that it happened once or twice, this went on for months on end," said Webster.
The suit claims the hospital never discovered the problem. It was a patient's relative who noticed the pills weren't oxycodone.
Sixteen patients or their estates are part of the lawsuit. But Jefferson Hospital has identified at least 362 patients who were affected by the drug switch.
In a statement from the hospital, they say when they learned about it, they contacted the patients and the police. The employee was promptly fired.
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