Drug Theft in Assisted-Living Homes

Caregivers have a myriad of concerns trying to meet the complex needs of elderly adults and they can add one more to the list; drug thieves are increasingly targeting assisted-living facilities where they are swapping opioids for Tylenol, forging paperwork and pocketing pill packs.  These drug thefts are not only preventing patients from receiving proper dosages that alleviate pain, switching out prescription medications can have serious health implications. 

Patients with dementia or other cognitive or memory problems are often targeted by thieves who suspect the missing or swapped drugs will go unreported.  Patients with these types of conditions may have a difficult time tracking their medications and may be unable to report a theft with supporting evidence. 

As reported by the Duluth News Tribune, a recent review of state reports of drug thefts out of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing found that between 2013 and 2018, the majority of drugs taken from nursing home residents were narcotics.  The average resident lost 45 doses of medication due to theft, but only 25 percent of those incidences were caught on camera.  Many cases of drug theft, a serious crime against seniors, go unreported or are not thoroughly investigated.

What can assisted-living facilities and families of elderly adults do to help stop drug theft?  Video monitoring is a strong safeguard that helps protect the safe storage and dosing of seniors’ medications.   Medication dispensing machines like those used in hospitals can also help control the loss of important drugs that prevent seniors from suffering.  Changes in the law to treat drug theft as not just exploitation but mistreatment of elderly adults is also important to help ensure medication theft is properly investigated and prosecuted.  

Staff and families members should be aware of the problem of drug theft and be sure not to brush off complaints by elderly residents concerning any missing medications.  Learn more about protecting vulnerable older adults from drug theft by following this link to a 2012 Mayo Clinic study on the diversion of drugs within health care facilities.