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Medical waste – key to combatting the opioid crisis?

The opioid epidemic remains a grave threat to public health in the United States. As addiction to vital painkiller drugs continues to ail already strained communities, hospital drug diversion plays a major part in those same illegally displaced drugs flooding the streets. However, according to the Oregon Health Authority, solutions lie in the handling of medications – and in the handling of waste.

In early August, the Oregon Health Authority hosted a webinar titled ”Healthcare Worker Drug Diversion: Prevention and Response.” The presentation defined six particularly effective ways to prevent drug diversion among healthcare staff.

Six pathways to reducing drug diversion
First, medications must be securely stored in accordance with regulations. Improving standards for storage and security are part of the first-line defense against illicit displacement of scheduled drugs. Procurement is another crucial step, as it is susceptible to tampering by both healthcare workers and unauthorized staff.

The webinar laid out best practices for the preparation, dispensation and administration of non-OTC drugs in the healthcare system. These steps are all important links in the complex chain of events that the movement of drugs through the healthcare system triggers. Should they fail, any one of them may cause devastating diversion of potentially fatal medications.

New software systems offer solutions
The final step of the process warrants more in-depth consideration. When seeking to alleviate the destructive effects of drug diversion, waste is a key area—one that is unusually rife with possibilities. Following drug administration, newly developed technology makes it easy to track and discard drugs correctly, an otherwise vulnerable aspect of the process.

A key mechanism of drug diversion is the scavenging of wasted medication, for instance through removal of residual medication or discarded syringes from waste receptacles. A common example is theft of used patches of Fentanyl, an exceedingly strong painkiller drug associated with severe overdose risk. The newly developed, highly precise pharmaceutical software systems screen returned waste and provide extensive monitoring to identify anomalous behavior, thereby diminishing the risk of displaced medication.

Sources
Healthcare Worker Drug Diversion: Prevention and Response, Oregon Health Authority.

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