With national opioid addiction rates at an all-time high, civilians, lawmakers, and loved ones of victims are all calling for stricter controls on the extremely addictive medications. The ability to obtain opioids such as fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and other drugs is surprisingly easy and many who find themselves hooked on the drugs had their addiction begin with a doctor-prescribed prescription for some sort of pain management. If drug companies are being asked to reevaluate marketing tactics and distribution methods of opioids, then prescribers themselves should also be forced to closely examine how frequently and to whom they are prescribing pain killers. Doctors in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and nursing homes, as well as dentists, oral surgeons and anyone else with prescribing ability should all be held to the same standard. The pharmacies that dispense these drugs, whether free-standing (independent stores or local, regional, or national chains) or in-house (within hospitals), need to be tracking prescriptions vigilantly, but also monitoring how they are dispensed to the actual patient and how they are stored within the facility.
Last April, Levin & Perconti founding partner Steven Levin was interviewed by ABC 7 Chicago about an incident that sounds like a plot from a tv mystery. An anonymous person mailed a box of fentanyl patches to ABC 7 I-Team investigative reporter Chuck Goudie with a note that read “these lay around like candy.” The package was stamped Oak Park, Illinois, but the box of fentanyl patches was prescribed to a patient at Westchester Health & Rehabilitation that died two weeks after the prescription fill date. The pharmacy that supplies the nursing home with its prescription drugs fills ‘drug carts’ that are kept on site at Westchester Health & Rehab, and asks that the nursing home use the cart to store medications and lock them up when not in use.
While the sender of the package is unknown, it is clear that they wanted to let someone with a voice know that the ease of getting their hands on opioids at the nursing home was quite easy. Nursing homes with lax standards for keeping track of opioid inventory may just be ideal grounds for a thief to swindle these coveted prescription painkillers. In fact, during his interview, Steve Levin told ABC 7 that properly securing prescription drugs in nursing homes has been a long-standing problem, despite strict federal and state laws that dictate how they are prescribed, dispensed, and stored.
Milwaukee CNA Shorted Patients Dosages, Sold to Informant 4 Times in Less Than 2 Months
Tomorrow, a woman who worked as a CNA at Birchwood Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in Milwaukee will face a judge in Racine County Court over 4 counts of Conspiracy to Commit Delivery of Narcotics. The CNA, identified as 31 year old Mariana Cooper, met with a confidential informant (CI) for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on 4 separate occasions to sell oxycodone and morphine.
- October 25, 2017: Mariana Cooper meets with the CI to sell $450 worth of oxycodone (60 pills) and tells the CI “I’ve got a lot more that I’m sitting on.” The exchange is recorded by the CI.
- November 3, 2017: Mariana Cooper sells the CI 42 oxycodone pills for $530 and is recorded once again. This time she tells the CI that she has been “softening” the prescriptions of the residents at the nursing home where she works (Birchwood Healthcare & Rehab).
- November 17, 2017: Mariana Cooper tells the CI that an over order at Birchwood means she has a lot of pills to sell. This time she sells the CI 30 oxycodone pills.
- December 15, 2017: The CI asks for morphine pills which Mariana Cooper delivers, but the morphine pills are wet and unable to be properly identified. She also gives the CI 5 valium pills because during the call the CI asked if she had anything else to sell.
After the 4th drug deal on December 15, police obtained a search warrant for Mariana Cooper’s home. During the raid, she told police that she worked as a CNA at Birchwood and that the pills she sold had been lying around, despite telling the CI during their dealings that she had been shorting patients’ dosages.
Nursing Home Residents Surprising Victims of Opioid Crisis
While tomorrow’s court proceedings will determine if Mariana Cooper will face a jury over stealing and dealing opioids, we would like to take a moment to address the fallout of elderly nursing home residents having their pain medication shorted or skipped entirely.
Pain medication is given in specific dosages with scheduled frequency to avoid something called “pain breakthrough.” Pain experts acknowledge that pain is best managed with a consistent, controlled dosage that prevents the pain from reaching a peak, thus making it harder to get under control. For those who suffer, receiving a smaller than intended dosage, receiving a dosage late, or skipping a dose entirely can mean the difference between getting by relatively pain-free or suffering excruciating pain. By allowing opioids to lay around, whether or not the country is in the midst of gripping drug epidemic, is what Steven Levin ABC 7 Chicago called “the equivalent of drug dealing.” To allow a nursing home to order an overabundance of pain pills and leave them relatively unchecked and unmonitored should be punishable by law. A CNA, a nurse, a pharmacist, or any other nursing home employee should never have the opportunity of freedom to undercut a patient’s dosage or to take excess pills for themselves.
A combination of reckless prescription drug management, a lack of staff oversight and accountability on the part of Birchwood Healthcare & Rehab and a greedy, opportunistic employee are all to blame for allowing helpless nursing home residents to suffer. If you suspect that a loved one’s prescription pain medication has been mishandled or you are an employee of a nursing home that suspects medication is being mismanaged, please contact the nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys of Levin & Perconti. Consultations with our lawyers are always free and confidential and can be requested by calling us at 312-332-2872 or completing our online case evaluation form.