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Outbreaks of Infections Associated With Drug Diversion by US Health Care Personnel

  • Melissa K. Schaefer
    Correspondence
    Correspondence: Address to Melissa K. Schaefer, MD, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd NE, MS A-31, Atlanta, GA 30333.
    Affiliations
    Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
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  • Joseph F. Perz
    Affiliations
    Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
    Search for articles by this author

      Abstract

      Objective

      To summarize available information about outbreaks of infections stemming from drug diversion in US health care settings and describe recommended protocols and public health actions.

      Patients and Methods

      We reviewed records at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to outbreaks of infections from drug diversion by health care personnel in US health care settings from January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2013. Searches of the medical literature published during the same period were also conducted using PubMed. Information compiled included health care setting(s), infection type(s), specialty of the implicated health care professional, implicated medication(s), mechanism(s) of diversion, number of infected patients, number of patients with potential exposure to blood-borne pathogens, and resolution of the investigation.

      Results

      We identified 6 outbreaks over a 10-year period beginning in 2004; all occurred in hospital settings. Implicated health care professionals included 3 technicians and 3 nurses, one of whom was a nurse anesthetist. The mechanism by which infections were spread was tampering with injectable controlled substances. Two outbreaks involved tampering with opioids administered via patient-controlled analgesia pumps and resulted in gram-negative bacteremia in 34 patients. The remaining 4 outbreaks involved tampering with syringes or vials containing fentanyl; hepatitis C virus infection was transmitted to 84 patients. In each of these outbreaks, the implicated health care professional was infected with hepatitis C virus and served as the source; nearly 30,000 patients were potentially exposed to blood-borne pathogens and targeted for notification advising testing.

      Conclusion

      These outbreaks revealed gaps in prevention, detection, and response to drug diversion in US health care facilities. Drug diversion is best prevented by health care facilities having strong narcotics security measures and active monitoring systems. Appropriate response includes assessment of harm to patients, consultation with public health officials when tampering with injectable medication is suspected, and prompt reporting to enforcement agencies.

      Abbreviations and Acronyms:

      CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist), DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), HCV (hepatitis C virus), PCA (patient-controlled analgesia pump)
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