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Drug theft: A hidden type of nursing home abuse

Drug theft in nursing homes is a big problem -- although nobody knows exactly how big. After all, nursing homes aren't exactly eager to advertise the fact that nurses and aides are able to divert drugs away from their patients so easily.

When an employee is able to get away with stealing a patient's drugs, make no mistake: The nursing home's management is at fault. When proper policies are in place for the storage and administration of medications, and all procedures are correctly followed, you don't have these kinds of problems.

All too often, however, elderly residents in nursing homes are left to suffer when a nurse or aide steals their pain medications or other drugs for personal use. Many of the victims suffer without anyone being aware of their pain because they are either unable to articulate their situation or just assume their pain is out of control.

For example, a nurse working in a Lakewood, Ohio, nursing home was able to empty morphine right out of the bottles sitting in the medication cart and replace the missing amounts with water. The patients then received only diluted amounts of their painkillers. Even though she was eventually caught, prosecutors still don't know for certain how long she was doing it nor how many patients were affected. She was caught when other nurses recognized suspicious behavior on her part -- not because patients complained.

In other instances, pills are stolen out of patients' medicine cups when the cups are left unattended by their bedside. Fentanyl pain patches have been removed right from patients' bodies. Over-the-counter drugs have been substituted for oxycodone and other drugs that look similar. None of these things would happen if there was proper oversight.

Nurses should always make sure that each patient takes his or her medication -- not leave the cup on a nightstand. Every new shift of nurses should check to see that pain patches are where they are supposed to be. Controlled substances should be locked away and monitored so that nobody can make a switch.

If your loved one has fallen victim to a drug theft in a nursing home and suffered needlessly, it's time to find out more about your legal rights.

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