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Hospital fined $500,000
Missing OxyContin spurs new security at University of Maryland sites

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 security apparatus.

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 properly.

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.

Click here for additional articles on facilities fined by DEA

Copyright 2005, The Baltimore Sun


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