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Medication Theft in Nursing Homes

Opioid addiction is at record levels in the United States and globally. Because of the very high demand for opioid medications, nursing home residents are now among the top targets for medication theft. Elderly residents not only take many medications, but due to declining health and unfavorable prognoses, they may be more frequently prescribed opioid painkillers to relieve their pain compared to younger patients. The potential for dependence isn’t a strongly relevant factor at the end stages of life. 

Prescription painkillers relieve the aches and pains of failing health that would otherwise reduce the quality of life for ailing elderly patients. When someone steals an elderly resident’s medication, they not only commit theft but also an egregious form of elder abuse.

Medication Theft in Nursing Homes. Older person grabbing their medication.

How Medication Theft Commonly Occurs in Nursing Homes

Sadly, nursing homes are one of the top locations for medication theft and it’s likely that only a small percentage of the thefts are discovered. One study in Minnesota showed that an average nursing home resident missed 45 medication doses during the course of 5 years, but only about a quarter of those thefts were caught on camera. By far the most commonly stolen medications are prescription painkillers.

Medication thieves often steal through “medication diversion” by the very staff that’s supposed to care for them. The elderly are easy targets for these thefts due to the following factors:

  • Most elderly patients take multiple medications making theft less noticeable
  • Seniors in nursing homes often have dementia so a healthcare provider may tell them they’ve already taken the medication and they believe it
  • A caregiver committing theft may switch a prescription pain killer for Tylenol 
  • A staff member may simply “pocket” a number of pills and give the patient fewer doses during a 24-hour period
  • Nursing homes don’t typically have as many safeguards in place against medication theft compared to hospitals
  • Many nursing home residents are cognitively or physically unable to report theft even if they witness it

Oxycodone and other morphine-derivative pain medications are widely available in nursing homes and hospice units and they are by far the most abused prescription drugs. Nursing home staff members may commit medication theft in order to keep the addictive medications for themselves or to sell them to others for profit.

What to Do If You Suspect Medication Theft in a Nursing Home

When a patient is left in pain because a caregiver pockets their medication instead of administering it, it’s a form of elder abuse. Further, in many instances caregivers simply pocket all of a patient’s medications when the opportunity arises and then sort through them later, meaning the patient may miss doses of life-saving medications as well as pain meds. In other instances, end-of-life care patients may have formed physical dependence on painkillers and stolen doses could cause them to experience withdrawal symptoms that could be dangerous or deadly due to their fragile health conditions

Family members with loved ones in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and hospice care centers should remain vigilant and remember the following:

  • Take the elderly loved one seriously if they complain of missing medications or missed doses
  • Report the problem to the local law enforcement agency as well as to the nursing home director
  • Report concerns to a hotline for elder abuse such as ENDHARM
  • Speak to an attorney with experience in nursing home abuse cases 

Do I Have an Elder Abuse Case in Arizona?

Nursing home medication theft is a form of elder abuse. Depending on the circumstances of the case, loved ones may be able to pursue litigation in the following ways:

  • An action against the facility for vicarious liability
  • Negligence in hiring practice
  • Negligence in training methods
  • Negligence in staff supervision

If you suspect your elderly family member has experienced medication theft, it’s important to pursue legal action to protect your loved one and hold those who abuse the elderly accountable for their actions. A Phoenix nursing home abuse attorney can help navigate your legal case.

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