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Drug diversion – a growing problem in healthcare

This blog post is based on an article published by BioStock in Swedish on October 6th, 2022.

As a result of the opioid crisis, diversion of narcotic drugs is a growing problem in healthcare. The demand for solutions that prevent prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands is steadily increasing in line with higher demands on drug safety. BioStock reports on the latest findings from the U.S. with comments from the organization IHFDA’s president Marsha Stanton and we draw attention to a technical solution from the Swedish company Pharmacolog that reduces the risk of drug diversion. 

Opioid abuse has increased dramatically over the past three decades. In the United States, more than 932,000 people have died from a drug overdose since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2020, close to 75 percent of all overdose deaths were opioid-related.  Learn more.

Opioid abuse has become such a widespread problem in many countries that there is talk of a global opioid crisis, or opioid epidemic with high costs to society. The crisis is estimated to cost $78.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC.

Fentanyl has taken over

U.S. authorities have invested heavily in curbing the abuse of prescription medications, which has reduced opioid prescribing in the U.S. by nearly 50 percent in the past decade.

Despite this, drug-related overdoses and deaths continue to rise, as many patients, lacking prescription opioids, have turned to the illegal market where fentanyl and fentanyl analogues have become both cheaper and more potent.

One of the biggest problems the U.S. has to deal with is that illegal fentanyl is used instead of pharmaceutical grade fentanyl. The illegal fentanyl is more unpredictable than pharmaceutical preparations, which makes it more difficult to dose and leads to more overdoses and deaths.  Learn more.

Drug diversion – a growing problem

At the same time as drug abuse is increasing, the problems of healthcare professionals diverting drugs for personal use or resale are also growing.

According to an estimate by the U.S. organization Healthcare Diversion Network, one in ten healthcare employees will steal opioids and other substances from patients and hospitals at some point in their careers.  Learn more.

At the end of September, an international Drug Diversion meeting was held in the U.S., organized by the International Health Facility Diversion Association (IHFDA) – a knowledge network of health professionals specialized in patient safety and measures to prevent the diversion of narcotic drugs.

The organization’s President, Marsha Stanton, PhD, RN, told BioStock about the problems related to Drug Diversion:

The opioid crisis is a complicated issue from the manufacture of the molecule to the delivery of the molecule to the patient. There are multiple channels and opportunities through which an opioid can be diverted. The complexity of the problem is exacerbated by the numbers of patients as well as the number of dosage units and the various opportunities through which a chance for diversion exists.

Higher demands on drug safety

The growing problems with the diversion of medicines, which can lead to incorrect medication, among other things, have led authorities to place higher demands on the work with drug safety.  Stricter requirements are driving the demand within healthcare to ensure that narcotics are not stolen or endanger patients’ health, for example by them being infected by syringes that hospital staff have used on themselves or that preparations are replaced with saline solution.

Marsha Stanton, President IHFDA continues:

Unfortunately, diversion is real and happens frequently, which requires constant monitoring, but also allows for the creation of very innovative data capture and technological advancements to minimize the potential frequency of diversion.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, ASHP, recently released revised guidelines on preventing diversion of controlled substances.

In the ASHP’s new guidelines, discarded or returned narcotics have been identified as a possible source of drug diversion.

Swedish Pharmacolog invests in drug diversion prevention in the U.S.

Uppsala-based Pharmacolog is a Swedish medical technology company that developed WasteLog – a technical solution to prevent potential drug diversion.

The system is used to verify that returned narcotics to be thrown away are really what is written on the syringe and that the contents have not been tampered with. The company has previously reported that they see a great demand right now for WasteLog systems that are sold exclusively in the U.S.

The company recently raised SEK 15.3 million in a rights issue in order to be able to invest more in the US and eventually become the market leader globally.

If you would like to learn more about WasteLog™, please request a demo or contact us here.

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