ABINGTON >> Abington Hospital–Jefferson Health has invested almost $2 million to take steps to guard against “drug diversion” at its pharmacy, and agreed to pay $510,000 to the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a settlement following the theft of drugs by a pharmacist at the hospital.

The agreement, which admits no liability on the part of the hospital, was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Jan. 9 regarding an investigation that began in 2013 after Abington Memorial reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration that a pharmacist at the hospital’s pharmacy had stolen a large amount of prescription medications over three years.

The investigation revealed the pharmacist, later identified as Renata Dul, had stolen more than 35,000 pills, “including highly addictive painkillers such as oxycodone,” according to the news release. In 2015, Dul pleaded guilty to 25 counts of possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and was sentenced to six years in prison and three years of supervised release, according to the report.

From Feb. 1, 2010, to July 22, 2013, Abington Memorial “failed to provide effective controls and procedures to guard against loss, theft, and diversion of controlled substances,” the agreement states.

During that time, Dul, a licensed staff pharmacist in the inpatient pharmacy, exploited a gap “since corrected” in the pharmacy’s software used to track the withdrawal and dispensing of medication, stealing controlled substances on at least 85 occasions and altering or destroying related records, the agreement says. She also admitted having stolen an “undeterminable” amount of controlled medications previously, it says.

The theft from 2010-13 was “immediately” reported to the DEA, hospital President Meg McGoldrick said in a Jan. 9 statement. Following “a thorough investigation, we are confident that no patients were harmed by this misconduct, that all patients were given the medications they were prescribed, and that this theft was confined to the pharmacist without assistance from anyone else in the pharmacy,” she said.

“Drug diversion is a very serious challenge for hospitals nationwide despite the availability and use of sophisticated technology to inventory and safeguard medications,” McGoldrick said. As part of an agreed-to remediation plan, the hospital “has invested approximately $1.96 million in technology, equipment and systems to further protect its pharmacy inventory.”

The hospital worked “cooperatively … to address the identified deficiencies in AMH’s handling of controlled substances,” the USAO release says. Among the actions the federal authority listed in the plan are upgrades to computer systems, physical enclosures and locks, more security cameras, improved inventory practices, additional security cameras and badge-swipe access, hiring consultants, creation of a drug diversion and monitoring task force, training and tracking measures, and policy and procedure revisions.

“Abington Hospital takes very seriously the security, management and administration of controlled substances,” McGoldrick said in the statement, adding the hospital has “worked tirelessly over the past three years to ensure we have the systems and processes in place to prevent future diversions of controlled substances.”

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