Nurse Practitioners and Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is rapidly increasing.  As a result, advanced nurse practitioners  are finding themselves at the center of professional licensing board, and even criminal, investigations for misprescribing and/or over-prescribing controlled substances.

The Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program requires all prescribing and dispensing of certain controlled substances to be entered into computers.  Nurse practitioners are encouraged to use the database to cross-check concerns about individual patient use or buying patterns.

Despite access to this information through the database, the DEA recently reported that only 10-15% of healthcare practitioners and pharmacists are utilizing this resource in their practice.

Given the growing number of patients abusing prescribed controlled substances and the government’s interest in deterring this abuse, the nurse practitioner should carefully consider the consequences of prescribing controlled substances without first cross-checking their patient’s use and buying patterns of controlled substances.

Read more: Drug registry often ignored despite growing painkiller abuse – The Denver Post



Two of today’s most popular cable TV dramas portray nurses diverting pain killers from the hospital.  And while the storylines of Officer Cooper’s ex-wife, the nurse, stealing pain killers from the hospital to ease his pain, and Nurse Jackie’s appropriating of pain killers from the hospital pharmacy to feed her addiction are easily classified as “theatre,” the diversion of controlled substances by healthcare workers is a very real issue.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration regulates the storage and distribution of controlled substances. Although most healthcare workers strictly adhere to DEA regulation, there are professionals that divert controlled substances for their personal use, the use of friends or family, or to sell the drugs for profit.

In response to problems with diversion, the DEA has tightened regulations. Now controlled substances and other addictive medications are kept in locked storage cabinets.  These cabinets often require a security code that is individualized to the healthcare worker or scanned fingerprints to access the medication.

Unfortunately, these security measures have directed the diverter’s attention toward the patient’s medication.  In February 2010, a Denver surgical technician was sentenced to 30 years in prison for diverting pain medication intended for patients undergoing surgery.  This technician self-injected the pain medication and then refilled the used syringes with water or saline, placing them on the surgical tray for use on the patient.   The surgical technician was afflicted with Hepatitis C and reportedly transmitted this disease to at least 18 patients through her diversion.

There are serious criminal and professional licensing implications for healthcare workers engaging in, or accused of, the diversion of controlled substances.   A criminal conviction for diversion could result in a prison sentence, and the professional licensing board could seek revocation of your professional license. There are also serious consequences for those practitioners holding a DEA registration, including revocation of that registration.

This post is intended as informational only and does not constitute legal advice. If you, or someone you know is engaging in, or is accused of, the diversion of controlled substances, consult with an attorney experienced in both criminal and professional license defense, a Colorado Nurse Defender, before making any statements or speaking with the police, the licensing board, employers, or even peer assistance.

The Law Office of Karen M McGovern, LLC, is an experienced law firm specializing in criminal and professional license defense.  Call 303.260.6444 for a free consultation or contact us through our website –