Prescription theft and abuse: What physicians can do to prevent prescription drug diversion

The best practices and preventative measures physicians take to prevent the theft and abuse of prescriptions may help them protect their medical license and practice.
The best practices and preventative measures physicians take to prevent the theft and abuse of prescriptions may help them protect their medical license and practice.

Prescription theft and abuse is a serious problem posing a threat to physicians. The problem is the diversion of drugs from legal and medically necessary uses towards uses that are illegal and typically not medically authorized or necessary. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) along with federal and state groups are charged with the duty of regulating prescription drug diversion and prescription theft and abuse. The significant efforts to increase security in prescription practices include new technologies and practices physicians and can implement to protect themselves and their practices from prescription drug diversion. There are several practice tips physicians can adopt to safeguard against prescription theft and abuse.

Prescription drug diversion is a vast and serious national health problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls drug diversion an “epidemic.” Many professionals recognize drug diversion as one of our nation’s fastest growing health problems. Prescription drug abuse is the main problem. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigates prescription drug diversion and reports that the black market sale of prescription drugs is very lucrative. “OIG agents report that a bottle of 30mg Oxycodone tablets are trafficked at a price of $1100 – 2400 a bottle! This is up to 12 times the normal price of a legally filled script.[i]

Prescription monitoring programs allow physicians and pharmacists to share information tracking prescriptions and counteract drug diversion.

Prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) are state-administered programs to collect and distribute data about the prescription and dispensing of federal controlled drugs. PMPs assist physicians and the members of their practice, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and licensed prescribers. The pharmacies dispensing controlled substances register and report to the PMPs to track prescriptions and share information so a prescribing physician can be alerted if prescriptions are being filled that the physician never authorized in the first place. There are several ways drug diverters produce fraudulent prescriptions.

Paper prescriptions must contain security features and there are suggested safe tracking procedures.

The traditional paper prescription pads are easy enough to steal from a physician’s office. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires prescription pads are compliant with the rules that they use security features to prevent copying or counterfeiting of physician prescription pads.[ii]

There are additional risk management tips and protocols to manage paper prescription theft and abuse[iii]:

  • “Request notifications from local pharmacies before prescriptions for controlled substances are dispensed.
  • Use the control batch number on each script to track the order of prescriptions.
  • Require patients to visit the office to obtain prescriptions for controlled medications.
  • Note actual amounts prescribed, and give matching numerals to discourage prescription alterations (e.g., thirty/#30).[iv]

E-prescriptions and technology tracking the prescriptions can alleviate concerns of traditional paper pad prescriptions.

Electronic  prescribing (e-prescriptions) can be effective in decreasing the opportunity for prescription theft and abuse. It is easy and efficient to track prescriptions using electronic prescribing software technologies. E-prescriptions reduce the threat of prescription theft and alterations while increasing the physician’s direct access to the pharmacists filling prescriptions to make sure the process of filling prescriptions is accurate.

Safe prescription plans can help physicians reduce their liability for drug diversion.

The best practices and preventative measures physicians take to prevent the theft and abuse of prescriptions may help them protect their medical license and practice. With insurance companies, state and federal agencies all requiring additional security and practices to prevent drug diversion, physicians have an increased duty to maintain their prescription practices. The consequences of negligence could include loss of privileges, criminal and civil liability, and professional discipline.

Michael V. Favia is a lawyer representing and defending health care professionals in legal and professional licensing concerns. Michael V. Favia & Associates offices are conveniently located in the Chicago Loop, Northwest side and suburban meeting locations, you can schedule a discrete meeting with an attorney at your convenience and discretion. For more about Michael V. Favia & Associates professional licensing work, please visit and feel free to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” the firm on Twitter.

[i] Office of Inspector General website, Spotlight On… Drug Diversion

[ii] Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Tamper Resistant Prescriptions.

[iii] The Doctors Company, Are Your Prescribing Practices Secure?

[iv] See HNiii above