Agency's crackdown on drug thefts hurts nursing home residents, senators say

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The Drug Enforcement Agency's efforts to combat narcotics abuse and theft in nursing homes actually negatively affect those residents and hospice care patients who need pain medications, two senators recently argued.

Sens. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder criticizing the agency's extra layers of security. The DEA has mandated that a physician sign a prescription form and fax that form to a pharmacist before a nurse can administer the drugs in a nursing home setting. These extra steps are a hassle to doctors and nurses. Also, the patients whose pain pills take longer to arrive suffer as a result, the senators said.

At issue is whether nurses at long-term care facilities can administer pain medication with a verbal authorization, rather than a written order from physicians. This could eliminate delays in receiving medication for patients admitted late at night, or who fall ill en route to the nursing home. But under the current system, they cannot, and that is causing harm to residents as a result, according to the senators.