Missing OxyContin spurs new security at University of
March 30, 2005
The University of Maryland Medical Center lost track
of almost 8,000 doses of the prescription painkiller OxyContin and now
must pay the government $250,000 in fines for its poor record-keeping,
federal prosecutors announced.
The civil settlement also calls for the university
hospital to reform its methods to prevent, detect and report
prescription drug losses at its downtown Baltimore campus or face an
additional $250,000 in penalties.
"When a licensee fails to follow [the] rules, the risk
of theft increases, as does the risk to the public," interim U.S.
Attorney for Maryland Allen F. Loucks said in a statement.
University officials declined to answer questions
about the case but issued a statement saying the medical center had
cooperated with the investigation and was carrying out changes required
by the government.
OxyContin is a powerful narcotic that can be
prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain. Sometimes called "hillbilly
heroin" because it has also been abused - often but not exclusively in
rural areas - by those who crush and snort the drug like cocaine.
In August 2001, the University of Maryland hospital in
Baltimore failed to notify the DEA of the losses of thousands of tablets
in a timely fashion.
It's still unclear what happened to the drugs,
although DEA officials think they were likely stolen.
A subsequent DEA investigation determined that the
unaccounted dosages were at the university's outpatient pharmacy at 22
S. Greene St. and its retail pharmacy at 419 Redwood St.
The losses in one year from the two pharmacies totaled
about 7,900 dosages of 40 mg and 80 mg OxyContin.
The Controlled Substances Act requires that pharmacies
and hospitals maintain complete records showing how they distribute
prescription drugs. Registrants can be fined $10,000 for each violation
under the law.
Under the terms of the agreement, the university will
pay the government $500,000, with $250,000 to be paid immediately and
the remaining $250,000 to be paid in two years. But the government
agreed to waive the remaining $250,000 if the university improves its
Despite its size, the settlement was less than others
across the country in recent years.
In 2000, NCS HealthCare of Indiana Inc. agreed to
$7.85 million in a similar settlement.
Harvard University entered into a $775,000 settlement
in 1996 when an employee stealing codeine-laced cough syrup led the DEA
to discover security problems. And in 2002 in New Jersey, Memorial
Hospital of Salem County agreed to a $1 million settlement with the
federal government for its failure to report prescription drugs
Experts on drug abuse said that the amount of
OxyContin involved in the University of Maryland Medical Center case -
about 7,900 tablets - showed that the prescription drug was likely
stolen for illegal resale.
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