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Protecting the elderly against theft of their prescription drugs

Pain and addiction medications
Pain and addiction medications
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As many of us begin to grow older, the inevitable onset of age-related physical and mental deterioration can often be accompanied by our personal physicians prescribing more and more medications to assist us with the alleviation of these elderly-prone afflictions. Even with proper diet and exercise, many of our elderly will still rely on medically necessary prescriptions in order to maintain continued good health and physical/mental well-being as time goes on. Unfortunately, there are specific prescriptions, particularly those used to control chronic pain, including opiate-based (morphine) medications that are also highly desirable by criminals who attempt to trick, steal, defraud, or divert these drugs away from the originally prescribed patient. Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Morphine Sulfate, and Percocet are just a few of several which have a high street resale value and, in some areas of the country, have become even more popular among drug dealers, replacing even Heroin and Crystal Meth, as their drug of choice to sell. Though these types of opiates are not prescribed exclusively to the elderly for controlling chronic pain, the average age range for the majority of legally prescribed adults is between 50 to 70 years old.
Generally prescription thefts occur within the household of an elderly person by family, friends, or associates - but retirement communities, hospices, and other elderly care facilities are additional areas of concern for theft. It is not uncommon for criminals and relatives of criminals to attempt to infiltrate these facilities seeking employment as medical caregivers, maintenance workers, custodians, cooks, or other personnel- granting them free access to patient’s rooms or keys to secured rooms where prescriptions are stored. Although many of these facilities have security measures, cameras, employee pre-screening processes, etc. in place to deter this type of infiltration, they are just as many who have little to no procedures in place to effectively screen all new hires. To best course of action to controlling the theft of any prescription drug is removing the accessibility and incorporate accountability. Having trusted staff take random pill counts on both stock and patient prescriptions. Have lock boxes required in communal retirement centers where patients are responsible for taking their own medication and have daily counts and recounts of medication being distributed to the elderly by facility personnel. Limiting access to the facility through rear and side doors and making sure the main entrance is well staffed and monitored continually. Family members, staff, and caregivers need to be sure to educate the elderly patients not to carry all of the medication with them when they leave the facility and to just bring what they need for a day or two - leaving the rest secured. Be sure they lock/secure their room/apartment doors, and have trusted family member or staff check that all the medication bottles are accounted for and pill count their medication in front of them every few days to be sure the right amounts in each bottle are present. Elderly patients can also be victimized while alone, so recommend they not travel without a companion or two - preferably in groups. Adding simple security and accountability procedures greatly reduce the risk of theft or victimization of our elderly.